ARRA: RAPID: Lean Production Auto Plants

  • Janoski, Thomas (PI)

Grants and Contracts Details


The auto and other manufacturing industries will emerge from the current crisis with a need for trained workers who can handle both the statistical rigors and the stresses of Total Quality Management (TQM), and Just-in-Time Inventory (JIT) systems. Current knowledge of workers in lean production is limited to start-up studies before 1990. Since the US is not going to compete with foreign labor on the basis of low wages, it will have to continuously move upstream with skilled workers making high value-added products. This project uses flexible open-ended interviews to explore the identities of workers in a deep way to understand how they view and adjust to TQM and MT. The investigators will interview 150 current and former workers - 20 production workers in auto assembly plants and 5 workers in supplier plants in 3 Japanese auto transplants and 3 American auto plants. This project uses three theories about how workers themselves view work and stress. First, Lean Stress Theory indicates that ITT and TQM often add to stress and lead to three outcomes: (a) lower stress with high team unity and without management pressure; (b) higher stress and resistance with management pressure; and (c) high stress but no resistance with team unity and moderate management pressure. The first and third paths are hypothesized to have corporatist or deferential identities that accept lean direction with moderate or high stress. Second, Team Intens?fication Theory is modeled on lean production naturally creating team unity out of diversity based on the revised contact hypothesis. Successflil lean teams have (a) contact between people of equal status (b) working on interlinked tasks in a small group (c) that is legitimated by leaders, and (d) resulting in successfbl outcomes. Lean production is the perfect setting for this theory, and it has many parallels with "demand control theory" in social psychology. However, team intensification does not stop with work tasks and it can also lead to affairs and divorce. Third, in Social Support Theory, stress comes from the lack of support from family, friends and community. Low family and community support can cause isolation that can be measured by the size and quality of interaction in social networks outside of work. The importance of this research goes beyond manufacturing. SIT and TQM have now penetrated the insurance, medical, and other service industries, and lean production may soon become the dominant system of production in the globalized economy. Learning how workers function in lean production teams while simultaneously handling the stresses of TQM and JIT will be critical for designing more effective training and education systems for the future workforce. This study will inform and benefit that preparation.
Effective start/end date6/15/0911/30/12


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