Eric’s Japan Lean Benchmarking Trip, 2

The impressions of what he saw are still strong in Eric’s mind several weeks after returning from his Lean manufacturing benchmarking trip to Japan:
“The visit to Toyota was everything I expected, which was amazing. We first visited the showroom and visitor center that had excellent exhibits on TPS and new technology. Of particular interest at this time, because of gas prices, was the exhibit on alternative power sources. In current production, the Prius has a self charging battery to assist powering the car. The battery kicks in certain situations when the normal internal combustion engine is not needed. As a result, fuel mileage is 40-50 miles per gallon. Toyota is also designing cars to run on hydrogen, but fuel availability and range need to be increased.”
“On the manufacturing side, we visited the Tsutsumi Plant. The first thing one notices is the train of carts delivering parts to the assembly stations. The key to the assembly is the timely delivery of small lots to the assembly lines. To make the line as short as possible and to allow work to be done in the confined area, parts are presented close to the point of use. In one case, we saw a worker collect an assortment of parts and put them in a box he then placed in the vehicle. Instead of constantly picking parts from racks close to where the work is done, the parts were placed in the car and attached as the car moved further down the line.”
“Another technique was the use of a cart loaded with the required tools and parts to be attached. The cart moved beside the vehicle for a number of assembly positions, and then indexed back to the starting position automatically. Both techniques gave assemblers greater flexibility to do their work.”
“Another communication tool for which Toyota is well known is the use of andon lights and boards. At each station was an andon light that signaled if things were OK or if there were problems. Over each major section of the line was a board listing each station. If there was a problem, the operator pulled on a cable at their workstation that illuminated the workstation andon and a light on the board. A supervisor or technician responded immediately to the signal.”
“Usually the problem was solved quickly. If however, the problem was not solved, the line stopped, a red light signaled the station was down, and an audible signal was sounded. The problem got further attention until it was solved.”
“It is interesting to note that Toyota is not perfect in its execution. The andon board indicated they were six units behind Takt time. In addition, the assembly line had a target of 97% productivity. If production was completed early, the line stopped and employees could go home if other work was not available.”
“The engine plant was a very similar operation. Again, one is impressed by the orchestration of parts to the production lines. In addition, production instructions and performance results are very visible. In terms of visibility in production, we saw the use of Plexiglas doors on machines so the actual work was more visible.”
Eric Sander is a senior consultant with Gemba. This week Eric is helping one of our clients implement part of what he saw at Toyota.