What is the Toyota Production System?

It is certainly not uncommon for a company to develop processes and procedures related to the way that they produce their products. It is, however, very uncommon for one of these systems to become the foundation for how millions of businesses around the world engage in manufacturing. The Toyota Production System (TPS) is one of the most significant revolutions to the manufacturing industry since the assembly line. Learning about the history of TPS and how it is still followed today will give any business some important insights into how they can operate more efficiently.

The History of the Toyota Production System

The Toyota Production System was developed over the course of several decades. It is hard to pinpoint an exact date when the concepts were first established, but most people say that the earliest moves toward what is now known as TPS began in 1948. Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda were both engineers at the Toyota automobile company. In their role there, they began trying new methods of manufacturing to help improve efficiency and therefore profitability.

The methods that they tried did not focus on what materials were used, or how the vehicles were designed, but rather the manufacturing processes themselves. These two engineers began looking at things like inventory control, machine maintenance, batch size, and much more. From about 1948 until 1975, they developed the Toyota Production System and helped Toyota become one of the most successful auto manufacturing companies in the world.

TPS Pillars

Over time, the TPS developed several pillars, or main principals, that make up the system as a whole. Understanding what these are and how they apply to any given business will make it much easier to see how TPS is used in most organizations today. The main principals are as follows:

  • Setup Times – Streamlining the setup time for any new or modified product will provide significant benefits both in waste elimination and the ability to quickly change based on business need.
  • Smaller Production Lots – Reducing the number of products that are produced in any run helps to minimize the need to warehouse products, which is a form of waste.
  • Source Quality – Making sure that all parts and materials are sourced from a quality provider will help to reduce defects and delays.
  • Equipment Maintenance – Time spent maintaining machinery is critical since it will prevent unplanned outages, reduce defects, and save money on repairs over time.
  • Just in Time – Using Just in Time manufacturing techniques, often called Pull Manufacturing, reduces the need to inventory supplies while still remaining productive.
  • Supply Chain Partners – Partnering with the right suppliers will help avoid delays and other issues. Treating suppliers as partners in the manufacturing process is proven to help avoid disruptions in the process.

There are many different steps and concepts within each of these pillars. Learning about each of the TPS pillars, and any equivalent concepts within other manufacturing strategies, will help everyone to function more efficiently.

TPS Influence on Today’s Manufacturing

The Toyota Production System has helped to influence the way most other manufacturing companies operate today, including many other leading auto manufacturers. One of the most commonly used strategies that pulls a lot of strategies from TPS is known as lean manufacturing, or lean management. While it was once primarily used just for manufacturing, today Lean concepts have been adapted for just about every other industry as well.

The goal of lean manufacturing is to reduce or eliminate waste in all its forms from throughout a facility. TPS also worked to reduce the amount of waste in many different ways. Of course, Lean strategies are not exactly the same as those developed for TPS, but the core concepts are very similar. In addition to Lean, TPS has also helped to influence many other methodologies used in many facilities. Some of the most commonly known examples include:

  • Kaizen – This is a term that is used to describe the concept of continuous improvement. Even small improvements in the way things are done can lead to significant benefits over time.
  • Kanban – This is commonly called ‘just-in-time’ manufacturing. This is where parts and other supplies are delivered where they are going to be used as they are needed rather than maintaining significant inventory.
  • Gemba – This term means ‘the actual place’ and covers the idea of having managers and others spend time on the shop floor so they can see how things are actually done. This is where the idea of ‘managing by walking around’ got many of its concepts.
  • 5S – 5S is all about eliminating waste. There are five (or six, if you include safety) different types of waste that are covered. Each of them starts with an S and come from Japanese terms.

It is easy to see that these concepts come right from the Toyota Production System. These terms, and many others used throughout manufacturing, are Japanese in origin because they came from TPS. Even some of the English concepts (such as each of the 5 S’s in 5S) are simply translations from Japanese terms. It is hard to overestimate the influence that TPS has had on the manufacturing (and many other) industries over the years and continues to have today.

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