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Building factory fitness

Kasra Ferdows (McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA)
Fritz Thurnheer (Hydro Aluminum Extrusion Group, Lausanne, Switzerland)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 23 August 2011




The purpose of this paper is to introduce the notion of fitness in production as something different from leanness and show that building fitness puts a factory on a course of developing cumulative capabilities and improving its ability to respond to changing market and business conditions.


The paper examines the process of design, launch, and management of a fitness program in 42 factories of the Hydro Aluminum Extrusion Group on five continents between 1986 and 2001. The design was based on the “sandcone model” proposed by Ferdows and DeMeyer but the sequence of capabilities was modified to improve safety, reduce process variability, codify and share tacit production know‐how, improve responsiveness, and improve labor and machine efficiency.


Most factories showed improvements higher than industry average in these capabilities during the 15 years. Moreover, they improved the capabilities listed earlier in the above sequence faster than those listed later, indicating that they were becoming more fit.

Research limitations/implications

Observations were in only one company and industry, which limits general applicability of the model. However, measurements were taken over a relatively long period, factories were spread on five continents, and the authors had access to the actual data during the 15 years, which together provided a unique opportunity to gain deep insights from this case. Future research should test the applicability of the model in other industries and companies.

Practical implications

A fitness regimen provides a roadmap for improving core capabilities in a factory. It is different from building leanness. Fitness helps the factory become leaner, but the opposite is not always true. A factory can become too lean but never too fit.


This paper is the first, to the authors' knowledge, to introduce the notion of fitness in production in the literature. Results observed in this case suggest that a better understanding of how factories become fitter provides insights into some of the deeply ingrained practices of superior manufacturers, especially those that stay competitive over long periods.



Ferdows, K. and Thurnheer, F. (2011), "Building factory fitness", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 31 No. 9, pp. 916-934.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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