TOYOTA’S KAIZEN EXPERIENCE
“Human beings think our way is the best, but at Toyota, we are told we have to always change. We believe there is no perfect way, so we continue to search. The goal is to break the current condition through Kaizen.” - Shoichiro Toyoda, Chairman, Toyota Motor Corporation, in December 2000.
TOYOTA REINVENTS THE NEED FOR KAIZEN
In the early 1990s, the Japanese automobile major, Toyota Motor Corporation (Toyota) was facing acute labour shortage. The emergence of high wage jobs and a shortage of young workers due to the low birth rates in Japan in the previous two decades were the primary reasons for this. The number of women and aged people was increasing in the country’s labour pool. These people avoided heavy manufacturing work. Toyota’s strong focus on improving productivity and production efficiency over thedecades had created strained work atmosphere as the workers were reportedly over burdened. This led to an exodus of young workers from the company. In 1990, around25% of newly hired young workers left the company in their first year itself. To deal with the labour shortage problem, Toyota employed many temporary workers in the assembly plants. The ratio of temporary workers in the workforce soon reached more than 10% -some work groups had around 75% temporary workers. As these temporary workers werenot adequately trained, the annual working hours of the company increased, while productivity decreased
Further, according to analysts, Toyota management’s focus on increasing production efficiency by achieving higher production levels with less number of workers resulted in increased stress for the workers. This also played a major part in the worker exodus. Toyota’s problems increased with by the global upsurge in car demand during 1987-1991 because of which the demand for labour shot up. As high wage jobs were easily available to the limited pool of young male workers, many Toyota workers began to leave the company. To handle the crisis, Toyota radically changed its production management and human resource management practices. The company decided to change its working conditions to attract high school female graduates and workers over forty years. Toyota realized that it would have to rely on Kaizen for modifying its existing assembly lines to attract t worker.
Toyota’s history goes back to 1897, when Sakichi Toyoda (Sakichi) diversified into thehandloom machinery business from his family traditional business of carpentry. Hefounded Toyoda Automatic Loom Works (TALW) in 1926 for manufacturing automatic looms. Sakichi invented a loom that stopped automatically when any of the threads snapped. This concept of designing equipment to stop so that defects could be fixed immediately formed the basis of the Toyota Production System (TPS) that went on to become a major factor in the company’s success.In 1933, Sakichi established an automobile department within TALW and the first passenger car prototype was developed in 1935. Sakichi’s son Kiichiro Toyoda (Kiichiro ) convinced him to enter the automobile business. After this the production of Model AA began and Toyota Motor Corporation was established in 1937. Kiichiro visited the Ford Motor Company in Detroit to study the US automotive industry. He saw that an average US worker’s production was nine times that of a Japanese worker. He realized that the productivity of the Japanese automobile industry had to be increased if it were to compete globally. Back in Japan, he customized the Ford production system to suit Japanesemarket. He also devised a system wherein each process in the assembly line of production would produce only the number of parts needed at the next step on the production line, which made logistics management easier as material was procuredaccording to consumption. This system was referred to as Just-in-Time (JIT) within the Toyota Group. The JIT...
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