The Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 25, 1999
October 25, 1999
VOL. 29, NO. 9


SPSBE Professor Credits Ford With Just-in-Time Production Methods

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Rescuing from obscurity the American origins of the widely popular Just-In-Time industrial production method often erroneously credited to the Japanese, Peter B. Petersen has written a historical analysis that will be the lead article in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Management History.

Petersen, who just marked his 20th year on the faculty of the School of Professional Studies' Graduate Division of Business and Management, initially presented his article as a paper at the annual meeting in Chicago of the Academy of Management, a national 11,200-member association of business school professors. About 5,450 of the members attended the August gathering, considered the major meeting for business school professors. The paper, titled "The Misplaced Origin of Just-In-Time Production Methods," was among the top 3 to 5 percent of papers chosen for publication in the organization's Best Paper Proceedings. It then was selected by the Journal of Management History to be showcased in a future issue.

JIT production methods, in which component parts are scheduled to arrive at an assembly line precisely when they are needed, thus cutting costs, improving workflow and reducing inventories, were popularized by Toyota's phenomenally successful postwar production system. Questioned about the supposed innovation, Toyota's Taichi Ohno acknowledged that his ideas were based on a 1929 book, Today and Tomorrow, by Henry Ford.

Petersen's paper explores the role played in formulating Ford's concepts by pioneering efficiency expert Frederick Taylor's "scientific management" principles and the work of Ford's now-forgotten employee Ernest Kanzer. Petersen credits Kanzer with developing an early version of JIT at the Fordson Tractor Plant during World War I but writes that Ford himself deserves credit for the large-scale application of the procedures throughout the Ford Motor Company in 1920 and 1921. Although both Ford and Kanzer were "fully aware" of Taylor's scientific management concepts, the automakers' innovations were based on their own ideas, Petersen writes, and those ideas remain "of practical value."
--Neil A. Grauer