Toyota Manufacturing – That is Kaizen at its Best!

“We have to grasp not only the ‘Know-How’ but also ‘Know Why’, if we want to master the Toyota Production System.” 
~ Shigeo Shingo 
Last week Heidi and I finally found the time to tour the Toyota Manufacturing Facility in Cambridge, Ontario. What an amazing experience! 


Toyota offers tours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 3 times a day. Their guides are retired school teachers who do a fabulous job representing Toyota. They certainly know what they are talking about and they make the plant tour a mix between inspiration, fascination, information and fun. It was exciting and my heart started to pound a little bit faster.


The tour takes about an hour long and along the way, the guided, motorized trams take you through the plant ensuring the highest possible safety standards. Electronic earphones ensure that you don’t miss a word even when the environment gets a littler bit louder.


The positive energy I felt in this plant is very difficult to describe. Toyota firmly believes in manufacturing where the product is sold. People are working hard but they seem to have a lot of fun at the same time. They seem to have figured it out!


When did we ever start to think that work has to be serious and that there couldn’t be any kind of fun? What a ridiculous thought when we want to see increased productivity.


Most of you have heard of or know Lean Manufacturing. Lean is a production practice and management philosophy derived mostly from the Toyota Production System, also called TPS.


TPS is Toyota’s DNA and is built on 2 pillars – Kaizen, which is Japanese for continuous improvement and Respect for People.


The difference between Toyota and other companies when it comes to Kaizen is that it is Toyota’s intent to implement as many ideas as possible. Their philosophy is that nobody knows better what to improve than the people who actually do the job. That’s Kaizen at its very best!


Toyota doesn’t just talk job security, they actually walk the talk. During the past recession they did not have any layoffs even though they were faced with the same challenges as everyone else. Their approach is different. Instead of laying off people, they used the downtime to send their people off to do some community work. How inspiring is that?


The way how this company is organized, and the self-displine, creativity, innovation and drive that Toyota employees live on a daily basis gives us hope for a better tomorrow. They certainly paint a picture of how it could be. 


The cafeteria at Toyota offers theme days, such as Sushi day, Pizza day, etc., and teamwork seems to be a priority wherever you look. As an example, to promote team spirit they have large displays on the wall to promote the “Catch of the Week”. This initiative promotes continuous improvement and an awareness of doing things better by catching mistakes. If a team member catches a mistake, the whole team gets rewarded. 


You can easily detect who works in what department based on the colour of their hard hats. For example, people with orange hard hats work in the maintenance department.


Every single worker has the authority to stop the line by pulling a string. Depending on the area or a specific problem a different song starts to play. Toyota employees not only feel responsible, they are allowed to use their ability to respond.


To my question on how people are held accountable to the cleanliness in the plant, the guide just looked somehow surprised at me and said, “We have a 5 day orientation program and there is not other option. If you want to work for Toyota, that’s how it is. If you can’t live and follow certain standards, then this is not the place to work for you.” 


Toyota employees don’t accept the status quo. They have standards but they continuously look for better ways of doing things and improving these standards.


It is certainly a highly automated facility and it is fascinating and scary at the same time to watch various robots doing high precision work. This should really make us think. Every kind of work we do that can be replaced by a robot should demonstrate the necessity of continuous learning, self-development and adaptability. 


If you ever have the opportunity to take one of these tours, please do so and I assure you that you will feel the same excitement as we did, and your heart will start pounding a little bit faster as well. 

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