New WSJ Article on Toyota
Not sure if there will be a free version online (if so, I'll try find it or someone post a link).
Here's another article that emphasizes Toyota's emphasis on continuous improvement and never being satisfied on how they are today.
Toyota's chief executive officer is a worried man. He thinks Toyota is losing its competitive edge as it expands around the world. He frets that quality, the foundation of its U.S. success, is slipping. He grouses that Toyota's factories and engineering practices aren't efficient enough. Within the company, he has even questioned a core tenet of Toyota's corporate culture — kaizen, the relentless focus on incremental improvement….
Mr. Watanabe, 64 years old, wants kakushin, or revolutionary change in how Toyota designs cars and factories. He is pushing Toyota to reduce the number of components it uses in a typical vehicle by half — a radical idea that would usher in a new chapter in car design. He also wants to create new fast and flexible plants to assemble these simplified cars.
Jon Miller, at the Gemba blog, has a nice analysis of the Japanese terms, so you can read that here. I think he's not thrilled that yet another Japanese buzzword has possibly been created. Kevin Meyer also has a post at the Evolving Excellence blog.
This story has been told before, but I love the story about how the CEO started by managing an employee cafeteria and reducing waste with creativity and process change:
Mr. Watanabe started his career at Toyota in 1964, after graduating from Tokyo's prestigious Keio University, and was put in charge of employee cafeterias. He took the job seriously and embarked on a mission to cut down on rice wastage. The cause of the problem, he figured, was that Toyota's cafeterias, like other canteens across Japan, served the same amount of rice in a big bowl to all comers.
The article covers a number of innovations that Toyota is putting into place:
- Watanabe is pushing Toyota to reduce the number of components it uses in a typical vehicle by half — a radical idea that would usher in a new chapter in car design. “For the future, Toyota wants to change the way it produces cars to prevent each efficiency drive becoming outdated whenever the company alters its designs. The goal is to halve the number of components.”
- Toyota worked with casting suppliers to rethink the equipment: how could it be made smaller? “Smaller and simpler machines are less expensive to install, take less energy to run, are less likely to break down and are easier to fix if they do.” They also applied this concept to car assembly lines.
- Major innovations in how cars are painted: “Smaller and simpler machines are less expensive to install, take less energy to run, are less likely to break down and are easier to fix if they do.
Dan Markovitz emailed me with some criticism of the article:
The article once again demonstrates how shallow is the understanding of Lean in the US (even though the journalist is Japanese and based in Japan). According to the article, around 2002, “[Katsuaki] Watanabe and his colleagues began pushing the company's powerful manufacturing gurus to re-think Toyota's much-admired “lean production.” Lean production is a flexible production system where, among other things, workers are able to switch between different tasks.”