In the automotive industry, Henry Ford and Alfred Sloan moved manufacturing from craft production (highly skilled workers using simple but flexible tools to make what the customer asked for – one at a time) to mass production (narrowly skilled professionals who design products made by unskilled or semi skilled workers tending expensive, single purpose machines). Later Eiji Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno pioneered the concept of lean production which combines the advantages of craft production and mass production whilst avoiding the high cost of the former and the rigidity of the latter.

The application of lean production created the most developed form of customer – supplier relationships (being developed elsewhere under the guise of alliances and partnerships) and achieved the highest productivity and quality in the industry. Studies have shown that productivity exceeds mass production by as much as fifty percent and the associated high level of quality is free. This outstanding result was not achieved through automation but through development and adoption of new organizational concepts. The drilling industry today resembles most closely the automotive craft production of the past; mass production has not been adopted due mainly to the non repetitive nature of drilling activities. Studies have concluded that lean manufacturing can replace both mass production and craft production in all areas of industrial activity. Lean manufacturing consequently has the potential to be applied to drilling or, more appropriately, well construction.

This paper describes the key elements of lean manufacturing and presents an analogy with the well construction industry which provides the necessary insight for the well construction industry to adopt them. The results achieved in the automotive industry show that major cost savings and improvements in quality can be achieved in the well construction industry through this application.

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