Gas-electric hybrid vehicles are the most efficient mass produced cars on the market today. The birth of the Toyota Prius has revolutionized the car industry and has also opened a reassessment of energy efficient technologies and oil-dependency among businesses and humanity. Increases in the production of hybrid vehicles are transforming the economy, environment and possibly the way people live their lives. America’s current and customary way of life is currently invested in a non-renewable resource. This dependence wears down our national security, the economy, the environment, and leaves us defenseless to fluctuating oil prices. This paper will also look at current hybrid technology and alternatives. It will examine the Toyota Production System and its impact on industries.
History of the Toyota Production System Most people today associate Japanese products and production processes with high quality. There is an assumption that quality was “invented” in Japan. The roots, however, actually are in America. Henry Ford’s principles of mass production, Joseph Juran’s statistical approach to problem solving and W. Edwards Deming’s methodology of continuous improvement were all instrumental in the birth of modern manufacturing. After World War II these pioneers worked to rebuild the decimated country of Japan.
Oddly enough, most American people were not aware of Juran, Deming and other process improvement figures until sometime around 1980. Until that time the United States practically ruled the manufacturing world and although processes may have been inherently wasteful and quality may have been inconsistent, there was little foreign competition. In the meantime the world was beginning to change. As the world economy became a global economy the face of the competitor was changing. Consumers began to have alternatives. One alternative is lower prices but was often coupled with low quality. Another alternative may be very high quality with specific items but with high pricing.
As companies or industries began to get the quality and resulting pricing strategies corrected the preferred alternatives for some product lines were no longer made in America. One way to get the pricing formula to work is for foreign companies to manufacture in regional markets. Not only does this allow a company to avoid shipping costs and importation duties, it also provides a “politically correct” situation by employing American people. A company that may have been considered a Japanese company would now be a truly international company employing thousands of diverse people around the world, including America.
Toyota is famous today for the manufacture of high quality automobiles. The products range from cars and trucks to their high-end line of Lexus cars. But perhaps as important as the automobile business is the methodology by which the company is run. This is the fabled Toyota Production System (TPS). At Toyota quality isn’t just built into their products but is at the heart of how the company functions.
Toyota was founded when Sakichi Toyoda invented the automatic loom. Further innovations applied to his invention would stop a loom if a thread broke allowing many looms to be operated by one machine operator. Because a loom would automatically stop thread would not be wasted making defective product. The operator was immediately aware of a problem. The principle of immediate problem solving could be called the beginning of the Toyota Production System. (Toyota Georgetown, 2006)
Automobile production at Toyota began in the 1930’s. Sakichi’s son Kiichiro was responsible for this operation and studied Henry Ford’s conveyor production system in the United States. This system of manufacturing was brought back to Japan and adapted for the smaller production volumes required in the home country by developing methods to sequence production and transport of product only on an “as needed” basis.
This process of Just-In-Time production was a necessity for Toyota because of limited cash and the need to turn inventory into cash quickly. This is a contrast to Toyota’s contemporaries of the day, notable the Ford Motor Company who had robust manufacturing facilities but huge volumes of inventory in various stages of production work-in-process. (Toyota Georgetown, 2006) Even today at Toyota inventory is not viewed as an asset but rather as a cost or waste. (George Alukal, 2006) The logistical approach is to deliver parts in a “kitting” package to cars as they progress down the manufacturing line. This has eliminated almost all the shelving that would normally be lining the assembly areas. (Norihiki Shriouzu, 2005)
Despite the revolutionary manufacturing efforts of the day, economic conditions in 1948, at the end of World War II nearly forced Toyota into bankruptcy. With concessions of the employees and great sacrifice of the owners the company persevered. In the 1950’s plant manager Taiiichi Ohno, who later became executive vice president, visited the United States and made an important discovery in American supermarkets.
He was impressed with the concept of self-service and the way that the customer could easily choose just what he wanted in the desired quantity. Just that quantity would be restocked on the shelf for the next customer. Ohno would later describe his practices in the factory like those of the supermarket. Production lines would supply their output for the following lines to choose from. The next consuming line would be a customer for the preceding line.
Only those items consumed would be replaced. This is what we call a “Pull system”. This is the beginning of another important concept of the Toyota Production System. (Toyota Georgetown, 2006) Toyota Production System Framework The dictionary definition of the Toyota Production System is that it is the framework and philosophy organizing the manufacturing facilities at Toyota and the interaction of these facilities with the suppliers and customers. At the heart of the TPS is the relentless goal of eliminating waste (Muda).