Lean & Toyota
Did it ever occur to you many terms that are used to describe Lean are actually Japanese? If you are familiar with the term Lean, chances are you have heard of Toyota. As it happens, these two are linked. But where does this link originate from?
The appliance of Lean goes years back. Even in the sixteenth century, the Arsenal of Venice used the principle of flow, which is the main reason a ship could be produced every single day. In 1914, Henry Ford applied the principle of creating an assembly line to produce cars. This was actually the first form of mass production. However, Lean is mainly associated with Toyota. But why?
The Japanese car producer Toyota is the actual founder of the philosophy called Lean. Halfway the ‘20s, Toyota could not even be called a car producer, but what they created was weaving looms. The company was called Toyoda Automatic Loom Works then. Sakichi Toyoda built up this company, because he created a weaving machine which automatically stopped when a mistake was detected. This is called a Jidoka, which still is one of Lean’s pillars.
But when the demand for cotton decreased, Sakichi’s son, Kiichiro Toyoda, searched for an alternative. One thing led to another and the company Toyota Motor Corporation was born, with only one goal: becoming the manufacturer of the best cars in the world.
After World War II, Japan, and therefore Toyota as well, was reconstructing. One of the results was a scarcity of natural resources and money. This is the main reason of Toyota for rearranging their business processes. Kiichiro’s cousin, Eiji Toyoda, visited Ford’s factory in Michigan to study the way they handled their processes. One thing he noticed was the fact they used many inefficient steps. He then decided this was actually not the right system for Toyota. Ford produced 8000 cars a day, while Toyota had produced 2500 cars in total yet. He knew Toyota had to choose a different approach from what Ford did. They should focus on quality instead of quantity. This is why, together with Taiichi Ohno, a production manager at Toyota, they started looking for an approach that did suit their company and came up with the Toyota Production System (TPS).
Toyota Production System
This is the system that gives people the responsibility to better the quality (kaizen) and eliminate existing waste. In other words, this is the foundation of Lean. TPS is based on two fundamentals, namely Jidoka and Just-In-Time. Jidoka means focusing on quality. Just-In-Time focuses on the demand for the product. By developing and applying the TPS, Toyota is capable of competing against other big companies, such as Ford and General Motors.
Toyota’s quality did not go unnoticed. Because their quality was much better than for example American productions, an investigation was carried out. This research was focused on the production method of Toyota and their mass production. It then turned out Toyota actually needed less to achieve the exact same goal. Less stock, less suppliers, less employees and because of that a ‘Leaner process’. Womack and Jones described the outcome of the investigation in the book “The Machine That Changed The World”. This is the first time Lean was properly mentioned. In the same book, both men talked about the five phases of Lean: value, value stream, flow, pull and perfection.
This all is the reason why many Japanese terms keep reappearing when talking about Lean.
Nowadays, the Lean philosophy is actually well-known worldwide and is applied within many organisations. Toyota is still the most common example when explaining Lean. To conclude, Toyota actually was the first to combine, elaborate on and apply the loose principles of the philosophy which is now known as Lean.