Matt Hrivnak

Kaizen: There's always another future state


While working in a textile factory in the early 1900s, Sakichi Toyoda saw a problem with the way the textile looms ran:  if one of the threads broke, the machine would continue to produce bad product until an operator noticed that the break had occurred.  Improving upon this, he developed a self-monitoring device that stopped the loom when one of the threads broke.  This produced dramatic improvements in quality, as well as freed up operators that had previously spent much of their workday watching looms for quality.  That particular invention is still used in many textile operations around the world, as well as in most manufacturing processes in general.  It wasn’t the particular application that was important; it was the overall idea.  This idea was later termed Jidoka, and when translated into English, literally means “automation with human intelligence”.  This idea would become one of the two main pillars of the Toyota Production System (TPS), and is still in use in every Toyota operation and process.

The second pillar of TPS was developed by Sakichi Toyoda’s son, Kiichiro, and is called Just-In-Time.  In the 1930s, Kiichiro, the founder of the automotive branch of the Toyota group, theorized that he could keep the entire production process stocked with needed goods if the previous operation would respond to the precise needs of the downstream process.  This thinking dramatically reduced the amount of time operators spent waiting for parts to work on, while limiting the amount of the waste in the process.  He would continue this idea by working closely with suppliers to level production and ultimately, reduce all excess inventory levels.  Jidoka and Just-In-Time were both developed before the start of World War II.

After the war, one of Toyota’s executives continued the development of TPS and is credited as the chief architect of the system that is still in use today.  As chief of production, Taiichi Ohno developed TPS into a company wide cultural experience which required each associate to participate.  In many American factories, then and now, operators were reluctant to add their input and often feared change.  Conversely, Ohno praised change and suggestions from everyone.  During his tenure (and with the assistance of the famed consultant Shigeo Shingo), Toyota invented many “tools” which would come to encompass much of Lean Production.  Two such tools, 5 S and Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED), have been written about extensively, and are often some of the first steps a company will take while trying to implement the system.  Over the years this developed into the idea known as Kaizen, which when translated means “continuous improvement”.  This idea still stands as the overall image of Toyota, as they are always re-evaluating every process, from order taking to final inspection.

After the publication of The Machine That Changed the World, companies began to familiarize themselves with Lean Production and the toolset became common knowledge.  The overall concept of Lean is what prompted this blog.  As you will read throughout this site, Lean is not an idea, it’s a way of life.  It is about embracing change and being able to look inward and realize that there are always improvements that can be made.  Once a company adapts this kind of thinking, they are consistently able to find themselves improving in all areas, from on-time delivery to quality!

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Comments (0) Posted by matt on Tuesday, April 1st, 2008


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