By Jon Miller | Post Date: January 8, 2009 1:09 AM | Comments: 4
First published in 1978, Taiichi Ohno's book, "The Toyota Production System: Aiming to Manage Free from Economies of Scale" is a classic. I have never read it in English, and the my rendering of his words from Japanese will no doubt differ somewhat from the existing English version of this book. This seemed to be an appropriate time to read and reflect on this book and the valuable lessons within. I believe Taiichi Ohno's words and ideas can help us through the challenges of today.
He begins the book reflecting on recent history, at the time the oil shock of 1973 and the resulting years of low economic growth. The parallels with today are striking. He says that in such times:
"We need to get rid of the idea of "the more, the better" as soon as possible."
This is because not only does mass production no longer work, it creates all of the various wastes. The development of the Toyota Production System came from the realization of the folly of economies of scale in their pursuit to achieve productivity levels equal to or better than the industry in the United States, half a century ago. This resulted in the development of two pillars supporting the Toyota Production System philosophy of "thoroughly remove waste."
"TPS stone henge"
Taiichi Ohno says that in traditional mass production, "It's as though production plans exist in order to be changed" due to various problems that occur in each of the processes and result in deviations from the plan and mismatch between outputs and inputs of these processes. His approach to freeing Toyota from economies of scale and planned mass production was to turn common sense upside-down. Instead of a the first process "making and moving" to the second process, the second process would go to the first process to take away only what was needed and this would be the "plan" for what the first process made next. This resulted in the kanban system and the downstream pull system essential to just in time and TPS.
In 1943 Taiichi Ohno was transferred to the automotive side of Toyota from the Loom Works. The architect of the Toyota Production System was not an automotive engineer. He had no prior background in automobile manufacture. This allowed him to look at the automotive manufacturing process with fresh eyes and also apply a perspective from an entirely different industry: spinning thread. When people say "we're not automotive, TPS doesn't work for us" they should remember that what we call lean manufacturing today owes more to thread spinning (jidoka), the Piggly Wiggly supermarket (kanban) and the efforts of Dr. Deming to teach PDCA and the scientific method than anything. These were the seeds, the automobile industry was merely the soil.
The practice of leveling the production load came from Ohno's realization that the factory needed to produce 1,000 vehicles per month smoothly and steadily, 40 per day for 25 days rather than to have no output for the first half of the month and then a large output at the end. He labels this "dekansho production" from the "dekansho song" which is a folk song that begins with the phrase "the first six months of the year is a life of dekansho dekansho, the next six months I spend sleeping." The origin of the term "dekansho" is obscure but it is believed to be a corrupted form of the Japanese word "to work away from home" as a migrant worker. The country western equivalent would be a cowboy singing about the months he has to spend on the range driving cattle, all alone, waiting to get back to town with his money to spend it on drink and such. The inspiration for heijunka was the Japanese equivalent of Hank Williams.
The good judgment in the early years and the continued striving by this tough, caring man resulted in the innovative and counter-intuitive systems of just in time, kanban and jidoka which are the pillars of the Toyota Production System. Once again the automotive industry of today is fertile for a significant change. Whether the result will be a process innovation similar to the Toyota Production System, a product innovation or something entirely different will be revealed in the fullness of time. The leader of this revolution will not come with an expertise in spinning thread. Perhaps such leadership will come from an expert in spinning polymers, spinning public relations, or even spinning as Sufi meditation. It may take such a radically different point of view to help the automotive industry through its challenges.Comments are moderated to filter spam and inappropriate content. There may be a delay before your comment is published.