Toyota President Speaks to Toyota Production System (2 Part Series)

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Are you familiar with the Toyota Production System (TPS) and how it was central to the success Toyota still enjoys today?

APICS Milwaukee Chapter serves the supply chain community with education and information needed to compete in today’s world. Toyota was one of the few auto makers to deliver a quarterly profit in 2020. Recently their President, Akio Toyoda, shared his view on the Toyota Production System and how that is what makes them Toyota.

In this 2-part series, we’ve summarized below Toyoda’s perspective of TPS as he kicked off a new TPS Leaders training program as shared in the Toyota Times.

Part 1 will share Akio’s thoughts on the meaning and history of TPS and the true purpose of process improvement focused on making someone’s work easier and safer. Read more below.

1. Sakichi Toyoda looked to ease his mother’s burdens.

The purpose of the training program is for Toyota’s management leaders who don’t work at manufacturing frontlines to gain a deeper understanding about TPS to help the company accelerate its efforts to bring back the essence of “what makes it Toyota” as it looks to completely redesign Toyota for the future.

Akio asked the group what were the two key concepts deeply rooted in Toyota since its foundation. The right answers were presented of “Just-in-Time” and “automation with a human touch”, or “Jidoka”. He shared a story to help the group understand Jidoka, by first showing the automatic loom invented by Sakichi Toyoda…

Sakichi was the son of a carpenter. It was said that he read various books and studied every day, thinking about ways he could make a contribution to society. Then, one thing came to mind while the young Sakichi was thinking about his mother, and how she toiled to weave fabrics every evening and late into the night. He wondered if there might be a way to ease her burden. That was the focus of young Sakichi’s attention.

It may be well known that Toyota started from the invention of a wooden hand loom, but the background of why Sakichi dared to invent such a machine may not be known as much.

Back when Sakichi developed his first automated loom, people had to use both hands to control the threads of warp and weft. His invention allowed for his mother to operate a loom using only one hand. His invention also helped improve the quality, increasing overall efficiency and dramatically improving productivity.

Often at Toyota, TPS is considered the process of making things efficient, but Akio said the purpose should be to make someone’s work easier.

2. Improving productivity was not the main purpose

Then Akio directed the participants to the next machine, called the “Type G automatic loom,” the machine that helped drive a drastic full model change of Toyota’s business. Automatic looms used back then were always monitored by one operator with a mindset of “one person, one machine”. People were the guard of each machine. This machine was able to detect such abnormalities at a time when there were no “sensors”.

With this automatic loom, Toyota was able to secure the capital required for it to shift its business model from an automatic loom manufacturer to a car manufacturer. This was enabled because a world-leading automatic loom company in the United Kingdom asked Toyota to sell this automatic loom technology to them.

An important point was that the old process created a lot of dust that often damaged workers lungs. The invention developed by Sakichi and his colleagues included a new feature that made it not only easier, but safer for the workers by automatically bringing thread end out on the pipe to where needed when the thread had been cut off.

When we say “invention”, it may sound like something very advanced, but it was actually the result of Sakichi simply exploring a desire to do something for his team members at the manufacturing frontlines who were suffering damage in their lungs. He aimed to create a system that would determine what the abnormalities were caused by and then coming up with ideas to prevent or stop such abnormalities. As a result, productivity improved. It’s not the other way around. It’s not that he did all this just to improve productivity.

3. How Akio sees Jidoka (automation with a human touch)

Akio shared that he sees Jidoka as being centered on people. It’s about thinking as if you were the one working there. You can’t just make orders to improve efficiency or reduce resources while you are in a safe zone and not at the frontline.

There’s also this idea about adjusting the work to match the full output of one manpower (pursuing Ichi-nin-ku in Japanese). This concept of “Ichi-nin-ku” means the amount of work, the workload or capacity, that one worker can or should accomplish in a day. Akio continued his explanation on this with the following example:

We all only have 24 hours in a day. You don’t get more hours, like 48 hours in a day, when you are busy.

This 24 hours is a condition equally applied to all. That time includes family and a private time, but a lot of it is devoted to work for a company.

Knowing this, supervisors must make the work being done by team members as meaningful as possible. That is what Toyota’s manufacturing frontlines have been pursuing.

In other words, increasing work that truly adds value while reducing work processes that are redundant or cause team members to wait.

So my personal take on TPS is that it is “centered on people,” and this is the mindset I would like for all of you to take with you.

One of the ideas embraced within TPS is an obsession to eliminate things deemed unnecessary or that interrupt work, such as waste, overburden, and unevenness. However, that might lead people to imagine harsh working conditions where no rest is allowed. But Akio shared that knowing that TPS originates in the idea of making work for someone like your own mother easier, people might come to form a different impression of what it is really about. Similar to what Sakichi pursued, it is about creating more free time for workers by eliminating waste in work processes to reduce overtime. When the value of a worker’s time is realized, work is adjusted to maximize the output possible from manpower.

In part 2 of this series we’ll share how Akio sees concepts like Just-in-Time, achieving lead times, Genba and overall doing things for others.

Looking for more information on the Toyota Production System? Join us in November to hear from Errette Dunn, Co-founder and CEO of Rever, Inc. on How Toyota really works and the secrets behind TPS based on his experience. More info below: