Global competition forces manufacturing companies to operate deep changes in their production systems, involving physical resources, operating procedures and the organization. In this context, the Lean Manufacturing (LM) paradigm is quite popular and lean practice efforts have crossed from the automotive sector into other industries. Most academic contributions to literature concerning LM are on specific aspects of LM, while there is little discussion on the overall implementation of LM. This is despite the fact that lean principles encompass all aspects of manufacturing operations and the need of a systemic approach is clearly shown in practitioner-oriented literature. A number of factors (i.e. cultural, technological and industrial differences) may influence or inhibit the implementation of LM. This paper focuses on some of the critical aspects of LM and analyzes the reason why LM principles are difficult to implement. In particular it suggests that, by formulating a solid scientific basis, the application of LM in industry could become easier and more rigorous, and not only based on past experience. At the same time, the paper suggests that when theory-based tools are used in an isolated way, this carries the risk of not effectively coping with the systemic nature of manufacturing systems. This paper proposes the idea of an innovative methodology able to lead beyond the usual concept of LM, i.e. to adopt its basic principles and systemic perspective, but following a rational and deductive approach that explicitly considers company specific features. The methodology is based on the “Systems of Systems” approach currently being used in the context of complex military initiatives and on the integration of different tools, each focused on specific aspects of the manufacturing system. The paper makes a preliminary attempt to describe how the main aspects of manufacturing systems (resources, quality management systems, production planning and control procedures, etc.) can be represented within the SoS framework and how SoS can support the rational definition of the path leading from corporate strategy to system redesign.

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