Toyota Production System (TPS) is Toyota’s internal management philosophy which they have been developing over nearly a century. In the Western world, TPS now a well-known concept and a role model for operational excellence for companies and organizations in both manufacturing and service industries. In Japan, however, TPS is an even more well-established concept. The development has gone so far that almost every bookstore sells books like “TPS for dummies” and audio books like “Learn to speak TPS in English”
The basic ideas of TPS was developed in the textile industry
The development of TPS was initiated by the entrepreneur, Sakichi Toyoda, who invented an automated loom in 1918. His loom came to revolutionize the textile industry. It was unique because it had a funtion that automatically stopped the production line whenever a thread broke. This automatic stop function made it possible to instantly identify, analyze and eliminate problems when ever they occurred. The concept was later named Jidoka, which means “automation with human touch“. The machines became “intelligent” because they could identify problems themsleves. Jidoka became the nucleus of Sakichis philosophy and later one of the two pillars of TPS (along with Just-in-time).
The development continued within the motor vehicle industry
Sakichis son, Kiichiro Toyota, established in 1937 Toyota Motor Corporation with a business idea of producing cars for the local market in Japan. Kiichiro based his management thinking on his father’s philosophy from the textile industry. Metaphorically he saw “threads” through the factory, which made him focus on the production flow; from order to delivery. He developed Just-in-time, which along with Jidoka, became the second of the main pillars of TPS. The intention of Just-in-time was to create a smooth production flow by removing all unnecessary inventories. The factory should only produce what the customer wanted. Each product would “flow” through production. Kiichiro also adapted Jidoka to the vehicle production by setting up ”stop cords” in the ceiling by the production line. By pulling the cord, any worker could instantly stop the production if a problem occurred. Problems were something positive and should always and immediately be brought up to the surface.
Ohno defines the Toyota Production System
Taiichi Ohno began his career with Toyota in 1932. He is often referred to as the father of TPS. Through common sense and brutal devotion to the company, he continuously developed the production philosophy of Toyota for nearly 60 years. Along with Eiji Toyota, Kiichiro’s cousin, Ohno eventually named the philosophy Toyota Production System. They integrated the thoughts of Sakichi and Kiichiro, but were also inspired from from other car manufacturers such as Ford and GM. The philosophical foundation of TPS was Just-in-time and Jidoka, but the conceptual package also included various methods such as standardization, 5S, 5 Why, elimination of waste , visual management, continuous improvement, etc. In 1978 Ohno published the book “Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production“, where presented his thoughts about flow:
“All we are doing is looking at the time lime; from the moment the customer gives use an order to the point when we collect the cash. And we are reducing that time line by removing the non-value-added-wastes.”
Ohno’s book is still one of the most read books within Toyota Motor Corporation and is often referred to as their own ”bible”.
The original “thread thought” is still valid
Almost hundred years later the thoughts of the Toyoda family are still valid. For instance, if I have a need, I can easily think about what I have to do in order to fulfil that need. Metaphorically speaking, I can picture a ”thread” from my current state (need is not fulfilled) to my desired future state (need is fulfilled). What would be the shortest way for the thread? What do I have to do in order fulfil my need?
I can also think about what potential problems that could ”break the thread”. What obstacles could harm the thread? Furthermore, if the “thread is broken” (I do not follow my plan) who, what and how would “my factory” be stopped? How can I secure that I always and instantly identify, analyse and eliminate problems that are hindering me to reach my goal?
I think the original thoughts of TPS are still very valid.