What is a production system?

Last update: February 14th, 2010
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Each major firm defines itself a "production system", more or less directly inspired by the mythical Toyota Production System (TPS).
Yet what is exactly a production system?

If we assume a firm utilises resources, like raw material, human workforce and machines to transform raw material into finished goods, satisfying customers requirements by adding value, then, a production system is the set of practices, rules, tools and methods altogether building the industrial culture of the firm.

These practices, rules, tools and methods allow the workforce to make the best use of machines and raw material in order to manufacture efficiently the goods the customers are waiting for.

A production system is a reference "book". When choosing to write this type of book, the firms also choose to embed the best known practices.

  • They may want to spread internally best practices proven elsewhere in order to improve their own performances,
  • Or they already experienced these practices, and the good results set them as new standards.

A production system allows to structure the industrial culture and to share it, to align all units and personnel share a same vision, to have a consistent and same approach of the organization and the roll out of these practices.

How do production systems originate?

First driver for the creation of a production system is company's growth. Its size and numbers of employees require structuration and mastering the variability in methods and practices.
Second driver is growing complexity brought up by options and variants in product and/or production customization.

These perturbations and the consequent need of control drive companies to fix the standards and seek a "80% identical 20% specific" approach. Production systems help fixing and sharing standard practices. They are a response to a real need, not a matter of the latest trend. The possible pitfall is to create a collection of theoretical "best practices" which aren't operational.

What makes the difference between one company and an other is the way, the art, which it transformes resources into results. A production system is the container of this art.


Author, Chris HOHMANN, is Managing Partner in charge of Lean and Supply Chain practice in an international consulting firm.

His fields are industrial and logistics performance.

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