Toyota Production System (TPS) and its use in Non-Automotive Applications

What is the Toyota Production System (TPS)?

automotive industry tps continuous improvementToyota Production System (TPS) is a term that is most often associated with lean manufacturing in the automotive industry. TPS includes a set of principles and behaviours that contribute to two key areas: continuous improvement and respect for people. Those principles are documented as The Toyota Way and they are:

  1. Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.
  2. Create a continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface.
  3. Use “pull” systems to avoid overproduction.
  4. Level out the workload.
  5. Build a culture of stopping to fix problems to get quality right the first time.
  6. Standardized tasks and processes are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.
  7. Use visual control so no problems are hidden.
  8. Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves your people and processes.
  9. Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.
  10. Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company’s philosophy.
  11. Respect your extended network of partners and suppliers by challenging them and helping them improve.
  12. Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation.
  13. Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly.
  14. Become a learning organization through relentless reflection and continuous improvement.

Like many management systems, TPS can be adapted and used successfully by non-automotive companies. As a Quality Manager, there are key aspects of the 14 principles that I rely on daily.

Principle #12: Go and See for Yourself

One fundamental principle of TPS that can be practiced by all quality control personnel is:

Principle #12: Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation (Genchi Genbutsu).

Unless you observe a situation or problem firsthand, you cannot completely understand it. Whether we are discussing a quality issue that has arisen or looking at continuous improvement initiatives, unless you have thorough and direct knowledge of the subject, you cannot expect to get to the true root cause of the situation. This is important not just for quality personnel but for the entire organization as it can be practiced in virtually all areas of the business, from sales to administration. The concept is to become engaged in the situation, not manage from a desk.

There are numerous stories detailed in TPS books and publications of Toyota staff going to the production lines, drawing a circle on the floor, and standing in it for an entire workday, simply observing what is happening.

“The goal is for them to understand the process flow, the standardized work, and thus have the ability to critically evaluate and analyze what is occurring.” The Toyota Way, J. Liker.

How Darcor Adapts TPS Principles for Non-Automotive Industries

The concept of “go and see for yourself” is not limited to just your internal environment; this can also extend to your customers and suppliers. Visiting these partners allows you to understand how your operations affect that of your partners. For instance:

  • What is it about our product has the greatest impact to our customers?
  • How are our products handled and assembled by our customers?
  • Where is our product failing to positively impact the customers’ operations?

As a Quality Manager, going and seeing for myself makes decision-making easier when dealing with customer issues and continuous improvement initiatives, as better knowledge is gained concerning the overall process. As a company, it allows us to bring first-hand understanding to the table to make process improvements, develop new products and implement engineering solutions, all with the end-goal of creating a product and a process that works for our clients’ specific environment.

I have worked for over 15 years in the automotive industry, but I am a relative newcomer to Darcor and the caster industry. However, there are many experiences from the automotive industry which I apply every day as QA and Continuous Improvement Manager at Darcor. Principle #12 of TPS is just one example as it allows me to gain a greater knowledge and understanding of caster production and caster use.

One of the key things about TPS is that it can be applied to virtually any organization as a means of improving efficiency and overall profitability. I encourage everyone to take the Genchi Genbutsu approach in daily activities as this enhances decision-making. Remember that quality and continuous improvement is everyone’s responsibility.