Toyota: ahead of its time

David Kiger is known for recommending the perks of having a lean logistics department. He also has shared his insights on production and improvement based on successful cases of companies like Toyota: a company that came up with several philosophies extensible to all company’s areas aiming to improve their current state. Readers might recall reading about kaizen and other approaches like “just in time”, however, addressing these topics requires context, which is why examining the circumstances under they were conceived becomes important.

Toyota is widely known for its, and has always been associated with, top quality products, moreover, to some extent, many would agree upon the fact that Toyota has made a name for themselves as one of the world’s greatest and more successful manufacturers.

However, the reason behind their worldwide reputation relies on their specific way of manufacturing and producing, named after their own name: the Toyota Production System. The Toyota Production System was initially developed to benefit all areas within a company and, as an extension, all the people involved with the company as well, whether they were customers, employees and, regardless of its inanimate condition, even products. Nowadays, the Toyota Production System is a solid expression of the Toyota Philosophy, which depicts and embodies five principal values: genchi genbutsu, kaizen, challenge, teamwork, and respect. These are extensively practiced and shared by all its employees at every level: daily activities and relationships with others.

This philosophy was first conceived by Sakichi Toyoda, known for having invented the first automatic weaving machine. After trying to apply improvements to the first prototype, the following looms would stop functioning if a thread broke so that product quality could be attained and maintained and waste could be avoided. Nonetheless, the true developer of the Toyota Production System is Taiichi Ohno, who in the early ‘50s was inspired by American supermarkets after noticing that the shelves were never empty given the fact that they would be restocked quickly allowing customers to choose the exact products and the exact quantity they wanted — which, in this modern era, is known as supply and demand manufacturing, or, better said: lean production —. This aimed to start the production only after receiving a purchase order from the customers, allowing raw materials and parts to arrive just in time at the factory’s production lines, which also enables the possibility of regulating supplies in accordance with the previously defined production requirements. In order to better understand this, readers can picture the Toyota Production System as something supported — on one side — by the just-in-time approach. On the production lines, kanban cards are commonly used to effectively replenish the parts that have already been used, causing the stock to become low. In Toyota, the time it takes to produce certain component, whether it is a car or a truck, is always recorded and they are known as takt-times. These times depict the work cycles and are carefully monitored and coordinated through a detailed schedule scheme — called heijunka —. By doing so, Toyota makes sure that every production line runs smoothly, avoiding all kinds of possible interruptions, and allowing the company to run more than one production line at a time. Achieving the state of simultaneity is an asset as it will be possible to manufacture different products independently and make areas, and the company, more efficient. And that is precisely what the Toyota Production System is all about: efficiency. Even on wasteful processes and the time lost associated with them, since one of the main objectives of this philosophy is to reduce and finally eliminate all kinds of waste so that time and production are managed and dealt with maximum efficiency in a way that, whether a machine or an employee, is not over-burdened. Consequently, striving to attain efficiency allows all workers to concentrate on their duties and tasks and deliver a better performance, which, in the end, is what delivers better quality products.

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Image courtesy of Daniel at Flickr.com

The second approach that supports the Toyota Production System is the jidoka. This strives to make possible abnormalities within the production process visible; thus, every team member is responsible for stopping the production process whenever a potential mistake or fault is on sight or bound to happen, so a solution can be elaborated immediately. Should a problem take place, Toyota team members are encouraged to go to the possible source of the concerning issue in order to find a solution for the main cause; thus, future production quality will not be affected again by the same problem.

Readers can learn from Toyota that standardization of the production systems is intrinsic to success. Developing and even relying on standardized activities and tasks streamline the production processes and allow companies to attain consistently high levels of quality products. The Toyota Production System enables the company to provide customers with reliable, durable and high-quality products.

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