Toyota Manufacturing Reverses Course – More Humans, Less Robots
The big news from Toyota manufacturing lately is a pretty radical change in philosophy. Instead of adding more robots and pumping up production, Toyota says it wants to reduce the number of robots it uses and add more humans.
Why would they do this? They want to improve their product quality – profits be damned.In an extensive Bloomberg story (reprinted on Autonews), Toyota’s plan to use more humans is detailed. In a nutshell, Toyota wants to develop more experienced production masters or “gods (Kami-sama).” These experienced craftsmen are able to think beyond the repetitive robot. With humans playing a larger role in manufacturing, Toyota says they can improve their methods, reduce manufacturing waste and become more innovative. In fact, this manufacturing model is akin to the Toyota of old.
Growth Changes Production
Toyota increased its production by more than a half million vehicle by using more robots back around the turn of century. This allowed this to grow into one of the largest manufactures in the world.
However, with more production, came setbacks. Toyota production is built around a philosophy called Kaizen, or continuous improvement. The Kaizen principle also gives a larger role to workers who can address issues throughout the production process and make changes immediately. Something robots can’t do.
“We cannot simply depend on the machines that only repeat the same task over and over again,” Kawai said. “To be the master of the machine, you have to have the knowledge and the skills to teach the machine.”
Talk with any Toyota company employee and undoubtedly Akido Toyoda’s name will be mentioned. He is the current Toyota president and grandson of Toyota’s founder. For the past several years, Akido has been growing his influence throughout the company. Besides his influence on Toyota racing (see: the FT-1), he is also working to remake Toyota’s quality image.
“What Akio Toyoda feared the company lost when it was growing so fast was the time to struggle and learn,” said Jeff Liker, who has written eight books on Toyota and who met with Toyoda in November. “He felt Toyota got big-company disease and was too busy getting product out.”
By leading a charge to reduce Toyota’s dependence on robots and instead focus more on humans, Toyota will undoubtedly see a reduction on production. In fact, Akido has reportedly put a three-year freeze on new car plants.
This freeze comes after Toyota paid a record $1.2 billion penalty to end a probe on unintended acceleration claims. The thought is that Toyota grew too large, too fast and by freezing new expansion plans, they can re-focus on quality.
“If there is ever a technology that’s flawless and could always make perfect products, then we will be ready and willing to install that machine,” Kawai said. “There’s no machine that is eternally stable.”
What do you think? Do you like to see Toyota reign in production to increase quality?
Filed Under: Auto News