I really enjoyed this chapter for a couple of reasons. First, Ohno uses the old-fashioned honorific for “grandpa” or “old man” when referring to Sakichi Toyoda in the title. There’s a certain warmth there and a reminder that born in 1912, Taiichi Ohno had the sensibilities and values of an earlier era.
Second, Ohno spends a paragraph talking about his schooling and early days working at Toyoda Boshoku (textiles) making thread, and later in the chapter how he came to first work at Toyota Motor Company. Of his first years out of school, he says “In these days they made you work for three years on the shop floor” before they would give you a job as a section manager. He’s actually complaining (!) though probably in fond memory, about being a trained engineer who was sent to work out on the gemba. This experience must have been formative for Ohno.
He tells of how he joined Toyoda Boshoku (thread manufacturing) after graduating from an industrial high school (equivalent of a polytechnic school) in mechanical engineering. Toyoda Boshoku was located next to Toyoda Loom Works. Ohno says he became aware later what a significant invention the automatic loom (the origin of jidoka) was, admitting that at the time he was young and did not realize it.
Taiichi Ohno is surprisingly critical of how jidoka was used at Toyoda Loom Works, but for good reason. “People took this great invention and misused it.” He says that just like the conveyor belt at Ford the automatic loom improved productivity tremendously by automating work that was done previously by hands and feet.
The most important difference between automation and Sakichi Toyoda’s jidoka (autonomation) was that the machine ran automatically and stopped when the thread broke or ran out. The key is that this prevents the automatic loom from producing defects. This concept of built-in quality is what made this invention unique.
However, people at Toyoda Loom Works saw only that this made it easier to make people run to the machines that were stopped so they could get them running again, improving productivity. The same was true for machines with built-in jidoka mechanisms at Toyoda Boshoku. Their main goal was to increase output.
In Taiichi Ohno’s thinking they should have used the opportunity to learn why the thread broke and stopped the machine so that they could prevent this defect in the future. Taiichi Ohno concludes that in those early days Grandpa Sakichi’s jidoka idea was misused to make people work harder so that performance would improve.
Toyoda Boshoku was merged into Toyota Motor Corporation during World War II and then spun off again after the war. “I didn’t make automotive parts during the war. I made airplane parts.” Says Ohno. He spent a year making brass pipes used to cool oil in airplanes. He was made Section Manager of final assembly in the main automobile factory in February 1945.
Taiichi Ohno explains how Grandpa Sakichi’s jidoka idea affected him by saying, “The way Toyota produced automobiles was the same [as Loom Works] and very labor-intensive. I realized we needed to use jidoka better and to think of ways to produce more with the people we had.” Andon lamps, pull chords and the culture of “stop and fix” to build in quality at Toyota today are all evidence that Taiichi Ohno succeeded in this.