Toyota celebrates many milestones this year, including their 50th year of sales in the US and their 50th year in motorsports. But perhaps the most significant one of all, not just to Toyota but the entire automotive industry, is the 30th anniversary of the English publication of the Toyota Production System, or TPS.
Also known as Lean Production or Just-in-Time Production, TPS is very difficult to explain in a short blog entry, but the basic idea is to have all your inventory, parts, assembly line, workers, and machines synced in complete harmony, like a giant choreographed orchestra that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The deli in the Visa Check Card commercial above can probably better illustrate it than any words.
It also gave factory floor workers an individual voice for the very first time in history. Whereas in US plants, workers were under the gun of productivity and only foremen were allowed to stop production, Toyota management routinely asked linemen for suggestions and gave them the power to pull the entire line to a halt if a defect was noticed.
According to the book The Machine That Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production, the leap from Henry Ford’s assembly line to TPS was as significant as the leap from having one craftsman build an entire car to Ford’s assembly line, where each man specialized in one part. The industry’s Journal of Production Research calls it “one of the most significant industrial innovations of the 20th century.”
TPS gave Toyota a fighting chance despite having only a fraction of the resources of GM or Ford, and was eventually adopted by not only all of the auto industry, but all industries. The full name of the revolutionary paper is “Toyota Production System and Kanban System: Materialization of Just-in-Time and Respect-for-Human System” by Y. Sugimori, K. Kusunoki, F. Cho, S. Uchikawa.
Source: [ReliablePlant.com; The Machine That Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, Daniel Roos]