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May 28, 2006      

"A Bomber an Hour"

The Origins of Lean Manufacturing

January, 1941-- War is only eleven months away and the U.S. Army Air Corps is woefully unprepared. Consolidated Aircraft Company has designed a huge four-engine bomber, the B-24 Liberator. The Army needs thousands of planes but Consolidated's manufacturing is so chaotic they cannot even build one ship a day.

Charles E. Sorensen, Vice President of Ford Motor Company and Edsel Ford visit Consolidated to see if Ford Motor can build components for the B-24 and thereby boost production. Sorensen sees the Consolidated situation as hopeless.

Overnight he sketches, layouts and plans the largest industrial building ever built. A factory to produce not one ship per day but "A bomber an hour".

The resulting Willow Run Bomber Plant eventually built as many as 25 ships per day. In our new web page "A Bomber an Hour", Sorensen tells in his own words how he planned the layout and the production using principles that later became the core of Lean Manufacturing.

By 1944 the Eighth Air Force in Europe was launching daily raids with more than a thousand heavy bombers. An observer on the ground would wait 2-1/2 hours for the bomber stream to pass overhead. This campaign broke the Luftwaffe, disrupted transport, starved the Wehrmacht of fuel and paved the way for D-Day. Willow Run built 8800 of these heavy bombers.

I hope you enjoy Charlie Sorensen's story. Sorensen was part of our "greatest generation" and a pioneers of Lean Manufacturing. 

All the best from the Strategos team.

Quarterman Lee

"Life In A Workcell" Video
The Human Side of Lean Manufacturing

Workers design and build their own workcell. It shows how the human and technical elements of Lean Manufacturing interact.  An ideal introduction for the shop floor. More Info>>

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