In a blog post last year, we described how gemba-focused Toyota Executive VP Kawai spends a typical day at work. In a series of interviews in IT Media, a Japanese online business magazine he continues to drop gems.
He was asked about the TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) strategic initiative. It aims to improve the appeal, performance and cost of cars by changing the basic architecture of basic frames and vehicle powertrain units. The scope involves new designs, integrating product development across vehicles and platforms, standardizing parts, revisiting manufacturing processes, and more.
Interviewer: In other words, TNGA is about the standardization of parts?
Kawai: No. In the first place, TNGA is a much larger effort. Simply put, it is “involvement by everyone”.
He described a product development line in which the engine assemblers are over sixty years old. Their job is to do the work and complain, “It’s heavy! It’s difficult! It’s not error-proof!” so that the young team leaders and engineers use their brains to make the work lighter, easier and error-proof. When production lines are designed away from the gemba by people not directly observing and listening, the result is a process that requires more correction after starting up.
Asked about the balance between increased investment in automation and the investment in involving and developing people, Kawai revisited the theme of “automate only after understanding and simplifying the human work”.
One example he gave was developing a process to insert a 9 millimeter shaft into a 10 millimeter hole. Production engineers would devise a robot to precisely locate the shaft with 0.5 mm clearance on both sides. On the other hand, a team member suggested a mechanism to position the shaft to one side, leaving 1mm of clearance to work with. The result is about a 10X difference in cost and complexity of equipment. This is an example of expertise blindness preventing engineers from seeing the obvious and reaching for an over-processed solution.
Another delightful demonstration from Toyota uses the example of teaching a robot arm to write. The graphic from the article shows the human writing on the left and the robot writing on the right.
In the top row, the human who taught the robot was not experienced in calligraphy, the art of brushstroke writing, and but human instructor on the lower row was. It is clear that the person who knows the key points, tips and knacks to writing beautiful brushstrokes can get better results from a robot arm.
Creative Idea Suggestion System
Kawai had thoughts on the importance of the Creative Idea Suggestion System for Toyota to be able to continue adapting with the times.
Kawai: For the company to change, the creativity and craft of the gemba becomes essential. The creative idea suggestion system has been in place at Toyota for more than 50 years. The plant leaders have been working with that system since they were new hires.
He described how the company spends typically between $5 and $1,000 to implement employee ideas that make the work easier, safer and the quality better. When employees see their ideas turn into reality this raises intrinsic motivation and engagement.
In addition to intrinsic motivation, employees are paid as much as $10 for submitting good ideas. The more they engage in kaizen, the more they are recognized by being promoted, and given opportunities to apply their creative thinking to the design of new production lines.
When asked about differences between national cultures and how this affects engagement with kaizen, Kawai focused on similarities. People everywhere like to build and create things. People like to be recognized for their ideas and efforts. People need to have fun at work. It’s the management’s responsibility to build a system for this and to make it part of people’s work.
TNGA may be the most important technology and design initiative at Toyota in decades. Yet it is not all about cars and components; it is all about people.