TPS – The Toyota Production System

The Toyota Production System (TPS) is an integrated socio-technical system developed by Toyota (an automotive manufacturer) to efficiently organize manufacturing and logistics, including interaction with suppliers and customers, to minimize cost and waste. Nampachi Hayashi claims that TPS should have been called the “Toyota Process Development System.” Most uses of the word “Lean” are actually referring to TPS.

It is important to think intelligently and reduce waste so that there is minimal inventory. This improves cash flow, reduces physical space requirements, and makes it easier for internal processes to produce the desired results one at a time (single-piece flow) to the customer.

It is also known as “lean manufacturing”, “just-in-time production”, or “JIT Manufacturing”.

This system is more important than any other part of Toyota’s business. Toyota is a long-standing leader in automotive manufacturing and the production industry. The company was close to bankruptcy in the 1950s. They have seen steady growth in sales and market share since that transformation, and have been profitable for many years.

Their culture of constantly exposing the problems in their system and seeing them as opportunities to improve (positive and not negative) and changing the role of managers to coaches and mentors for their employees on how scientifically and interactively to solve these problems is what has made them successful.

Most of the system was developed from 1948 to 1975. Its major influences were Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda.

The Toyota Production System was born out of Eiji Toyoda’s 1950 visit to the River Rouge Ford Plant by an engineer who was also a member of Toyota’s founding family. After his return to Toyota, he famously told his colleagues that there were “some possibilities to improve the manufacturing system.”

TPS also incorporates the principles of Total Quality Control (TQC), which is a comprehensive approach that engages all employees in preventing or detecting quality issues at the source (not downstream from where it was created).

The purpose of TPS is to identify and reduce three primary obstacles or deviations from the optimal allocation of resources within the system:

  • Overburden (muri)
  • Inconsistency (mura).
  • Waste (muda)

TPS is grounded on two main conceptual pillars:

  • Just-in-Time – This means “Making only the most important decisions, when they are needed and in the right amount”
  • Jidoka (Autonomation) means “Automation with a human touch”

The underlying principles of TPS (called the Toyota Way) are as follows:

  • Continuous improvement
    • Challenge
      • We create a long-term vision and face challenges with courage, creativity, and determination to achieve our dreams.
    • Kaizen
      • Our business operations are continuously improved, and we strive for innovation and advancement.
    • Genchi Genbutsu
      • To make the right decisions, go to the source (gemba).
  • Respect for others
    • Respect
      • Respect others, understand one another, take responsibility, and work together to build trust.
    • Teamwork
      • We encourage personal and professional development, share the opportunity for growth, and maximize individual performance and that of our teams.

Some of the key tools and concepts used within TPS include:

  • Andon
  • Gemba and Genchi Genbutsu
  • Heijunka
  • Jidoka
  • Just-in-time
  • Kaizen
  • Level loading
  • Kanban
  • Supermarket
  • Muda, Mura, and Muri
  • Obeya
  • Poka-yoke (error-proofing)
  • 5S
  • Value Stream Mapping
  • SMED
  • 5 Why’s

Critics of TPS felt that it was successful because of the Japanese culture. It was implemented at the NUMMI facility and it proved to be universal.