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Manaswita – Reflection

by on October 29, 2007

Toyota’s innovative change

“The Machine that Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos”, the book that I am reading for the book review assignment is about Japanese conglomerate, Toyota Motor Corporation and about innovative and ground-breaking change in the form of “lean production”. This automobile manufacturer, currently the largest manufacturer of cars in the world, outshined the companies in the global auto wars by discovering the new concept of lean production. Today it is regarded as the most efficient and highest quality producer of motor vehicles in the industry. Result: the big names in the auto industry in America and Europe had to think hard of changing their old method of mass production.

Before Toyota pioneered its Toyota Production System or lean production, sixty years had already passed since the introduction of Henry Ford’s mass production system. Today the reality is that the lean production gave an edge to Toyota over American and European companies and they noticed and attempted to emulate Toyota’s blueprint for success. Over the next 20 years, American and some European executives made regular trips to Japan to observe first hand why Toyota was so effective. Till to date most of the western companies have not been successful in implementing the Japanese trademark in their own factories.

It did not take long for Taiichi Ohno, Toyota’s chief production engineer and the pioneer of lean production, to realize after just one visit to Detroit, that Japanese company needed something different than mass production to compete with American companies. After few more visits he also realized that mass production is not the most efficient system of production and there can be something much better, something not thought of by the Big Three in Detroit. It was the right time to make the change, time to innovate something that could be more proficient and more resourceful.

New ideas emerge from a set of conditions in which old ideas no longer seem to work and then after a series of experiments back in Toyota’s headquarter, Toyota Production System was born. The Western production methodology, which Japanese tried to copy, did not work for them because they lacked the cash flow to fund the large inventory system required by the US mass production system. Thus, was pioneered the Just In Time (JIT) inventory system. Moreover, they lacked the space to build huge factory spaces and the natural resources which America is blessed with. It did not take them much long to comprehend that they cannot be copy-cat in this case and they need to innovate if they want to establish their foothold in the automobile industry, the fact most western companies have failed to realize.

Lean manufacturing became a unique example of the birth of an innovative idea and brought a radical change to the productivity and the product quality. Soon the companies in the West noticed and attempted to emulate Toyota’s blueprint for success and they ignored the fact that to be in the race and to bring the change the keyword is innovation and that the imitation is of no use. That is what Toyota did in the past and became world class by converting their problems into opportunities.

The Machine That Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, Daniel Roos

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