Day 5 and 6, Toyota City, Japan: Where lean manufacturing was born, and is bred every day

Learn lean production from Mitsuru Kawai, the last surviving link to Taiichi Ohno, the creator of TPS

Monday, November 5, Tuesday, November 6

We wake up in Nagoya, have a Japanese breakfast, and a short bus ride later we will be in a city that took its name from its most famous resident. Toyota. Coincidentally, we also will be in a sister city of Detroit, where we were just a few days ago.  This will be a two-day whirlwind tour through the world of Toyota, past, present, and future.

Toyota City’s Motomachi plant. Click here to visit via Google Maps.

Toyota City was where the “Toyota Production System” was born, a system that  later was co-opted under the “lean manufacturing” name, so that other car factories and industries could adopt it without getting embarrassed.

We go to Toyota City, and not to Miyagi, as originally planned, because the “simple, slim and flexible” line that was piloted in Miyagi can now be seen here in Toyota, as well as in increasing numbers of Toyota factories around the globe. The assembly line consists of simple raised platforms. To add or subtract capacity, the modular line can be shortened or lengthened in the course of a few days. The plant has no underfloor pits, and it mostly does away with cars suspended from the ceiling. The line fits into a standard warehouse. Should the plant no longer be needed, the assembly line can be unbolted and shipped elsewhere, the building can easily be sold, or used as a warehouse.

Without large scale automation, Toyota could not have become one of the world’s largest, and at the same time one most profitable automakers. At the same time, the company strongly believes that skilled humans are more important than robots. As we will witness, this is practiced with the same fervor as it is preached at Toyota..

We will go to Toyota’s Kamigo engine plant, and visit its “super skill” line where senior (and sometimes very senior) Toyota technicians assemble choice Lexus LC engines entirely by hand. The idea is not just to build and engines – that could be done quicker and cheaper on an automated line. The idea is to hone the skills of already highly skilled people, to a degree that they literally can build the engine with their eyes closed.

We then will see a highly interesting “TPS basic learning line,” where Toyota engineers and managers learn to get their hands dirty – a boot camp, or make that dojo, for future executives.

We might also meet with the father of the project, Mitsuru Kawaii, a very interesting man who started on the shop floor as a disciple of Taichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System.  He now is on the board of Toyota.

We will also (to be confirmed) visit Toyota’s Yoshiwara plant, which produces the Lexus LX and Toyota land Cruiser. It just received J.D. Power’s Platinum Plant Quality Award for producing models with the fewest defects or malfunctions.  Visiting the production of the fuel-cell powered Toyota Mirai also is a strong possibility.

If time allows, we will visit the incredible Toyota Automobile Museum, possibly with a very special guide.  We can visit the house of Akio Toyoda’s grandfather Kiichiro.  Prepare to be surprised!

This will be a two day outing, overnight in Nagoya.