I haven't found a free version of this article yet. Here is another article with a brief summary and a blog posting that references the article. The Gemba Pantarei blog also chimed in with an interesting take on public problem solving.
“According to senior executives and engineers familiar with the move, the company is considering adding as much as three to six more months to projects that normally call for roughly two to three years of development lead time, in order to stem the growing tide of quality problems.”
Why is Toyota going to slow down product development, you might ask?
“Though not final, a move to slow product cycles would mark a step back from an aggressive strategy for global expansion set in motion in the mid-1990s by then-President Hiroshi Okuda.
The strategy called for engineers to pump out more vehicles to fuel the company's growth around the world. Product-development bosses kept engineers on tight launch schedules. Toyota also began relying more heavily on computer-aided design tools to radically compress vehicle-development times by skipping steps such as making physical prototypes to test components.
Using these high-tech tools, Toyota cut new-model development time to as short as about two years — compared with three or four years in the past. According to officials at the Toyota product-development and engineering center in Ann Arbor, Mich., virtual-engineering tools have helped the company slash the number of prototypes it builds per project to fewer than 20 from 60.
But the new approach, which allowed its main advocate Yoshio Shirai, a senior managing director, to gain a seat on Toyota's board, is now suspected of contributing to the recent rash of embarrassing quality glitches.
Additionally, Toyota executives and engineers say, some mistakes are happening because computer-aided engineering tools have limitations that allow potential design flaws to slip through. Others point to increased use of parts designed by outside suppliers like Delphi Corp. that aren't part of the traditional circle of Toyota partners in Japan.”
It sounds like Toyota was over-aggressive in the reliance upon computer-aided design tools that allowed problems to slip through the system.
But, Toyota is trying a new approach, one that might remind you of Preventative Maintenance (or Total Productive Maintenance) methodologies used in the factory:
“Toyota also is accelerating an application of what it describes as “preventive engineering” — an approach the auto maker has been implementing since the late 1990s to forecast problem areas based on engineering knowledge accumulated over the years and using extra caution in designing those areas.
The approach is based on the idea that most components of today's cars are proven technologies, and that most problems occur when, for example, engineers combine two or more parts to create a component system. Toyota engineers focus most of their attention on those “interface” areas to predict problems that might develop.”
New methods and continuous improvement are needed. Let's hope this starts to turn the Toyota quality ship back in the right direction. What are your thoughts on this?
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