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Van Gogh and Sunflower Lean

December 7th, 2009 admin Leave a comment Go to comments

There was a fascinating report last night on what looked to be a very original application of Lean Manufacturing.

I didn’t know this, but there seems to be a major industry in China producing copies of the major works of painters and sculptors. There are these hangers full of Roman-like sculptures which look very much like the originals would have (not that I’ve an expert eye) which manufactured in around three days compared with months or years in the ‘good old days’. And it is not as if these are necessarily skilled craftsmen. According to the journalist (I am always a little sceptical about what I see or hear on the television), many of these sculptors are labourers who could no longer make a living in the rice fields and, after what must have been a fairly intensive training programmes, turned to sculpting (using circular saws for some of them). It’s wonderful what standard work can produce if done properly!

The bit that intrigued me most however was on how a team worked together on copies of paintings of the Masters. The example we saw was the reproduction of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

There was a team of six, with six canvas pinned to the wall in front of them. I’m inventing the precise detail, but the organisation was something like :

Worker 1 paints the outlines

Worker 2 colours the vases

Worker 3 paints the stalks

Worker 4 colours the petals

Worker 5 paints the low-level background

Worker 6 paints the high-level background

Each part of the painting is timed to take exactly the same amount of time.

And then workers 1 moves onto worker 2’s canvas, 2 onto 3n 6 back to 1, etc. Each specialising in their own specific task – vase, stalks and petals. In a few minutes, an identical copy of Van Gogh’s painting is produce for sale at a sizeable markup either locally (there’s a big market) or internationally. And we can probably be sure that the order has already been received, and that this is not ‘push’ production.

Well, that’s where all similarity with Lean ends. Workers sleeping on site with dormatories six to a room and canvasses pinned to the wall just in case the 12-hour day was not long enough and they felt like doing a bit of overtime during the night.

However, as a Lean application, it was fascinating.

Van Gogh, however, probably wouldn’t want to hear about it!

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