Montana State University

MSU professor wins Shingo prize for problem-solving and manufacturing research

March 31, 2009 -- By Michael Becker, MSU News Service

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BOZEMAN -- Montana State University's Durward Sobek has been awarded a 2009 Shingo Research and Professional Publication prize for his book "Understanding A3 Thinking," which deals with problem-solving within organizations, such as manufacturing companies.

Sobek, an associate professor of industrial engineering, co-wrote the book with Art Smalley, a former manager at Toyota and a member of the faculty at the Lean Enterprise Institute in Cambridge, Mass.

Sobek and Smalley's book was one of six projects to be awarded a Shingo research prize, and it is the first Shingo prize awarded to a member of MSU's faculty.

The award will be officially presented at a ceremony May 8 in Nashville, Tenn.

The Shingo prizes are named for Japanese industrial engineer Shigeo Shingo, a world-renowned expert on improving manufacturing processes. The prizes were established in 1988 to promote awareness of lean manufacturing and to recognize manufacturing excellence around the world.

Lean manufacturing is a system for organizing product development, operations, suppliers and customer relations. The system aims at manufacturing products with less effort, space, money and time than traditional manufacturing processes. It was pioneered by Toyota after World War II and is sometimes referred to as the Toyota Production System.

Sobek's book, published last year by Productivity Press, focuses on a tool called the A3 report, a rigorous two-page process that helps organizations solve problems rather than just push them around, Sobek said.

"When companies adopt lean manufacturing concepts to improve their efficiency, this often exposes problems in their systems that they didn't notice before because they had so much waste in the process that covered them up," Sobek said.

But, he said, you don't have to use lean manufacturing principles to benefit from A3-style thinking.

"The A3 report is a tool to help people solve problems and increase the overall effectiveness of organizations," Sobek said.

Sobek previously won a Shingo research prize in 1995 for work he did on lean manufacturing as a graduate student at the University of Michigan. He has been working with the concepts since and has even studied how lean manufacturing principles can help boost efficiency at hospitals.

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Contact: Durward Sobek at 406-994-7140 or at