Book Of The Week: Toyota, the lean, keen car-making machine

Toyota: People, Ideas and the Challenge of the New

By Edwin M. Reingold

(Penguin Books, pounds 16.99)

WALKING INTO a Toyota factory for the first time is a daunting experience. Everything seems to flow like clockwork. One cannot help but be amazed by the system that makes it tick so relentlessly - seemingly without human effort. In other Japanese factories there are lots of teams busy working on problems and walls full of visual information on everything from training and skills to how many problems occurred that day. One sees far less of this at Toyota, the emphasis is on the system - the Toyota Production System (TPS) - now widely recognised as the most efficient manufacturing system today.

It was not always this way. What one now sees is the result of 50 years' hard work by extraordinary people who tell their stories in this book. For the first 20 post-war years Taiichi Ohno, architect of TPS, inspired and pushed his staff to their limits to overcome the constraints of traditional manufacturing. His ideas were so radical he faced enormous opposition from colleagues. But step by step he put the pieces of his system together. Amazingly, nothing was in writing until they had to start teaching suppliers in the early 1970s.

Ohno was convinced the industrial world had taken a wrong turning in the 1920s. He was inspired by Henry Ford's original plant at Highland Park, where every machine, from raw material to finished product, was lined up in process sequence. A single car, the Model T, was made in hours. As soon as it came to making a range of products this practice was uniformly abandoned (even by the later Henry Ford) and the machines were in separate departments, which made large batches of each part in turn.

That kept the machines busy but stretched the time from start to finish from hours to months. So products had to be made to a forecast months ahead and sold to customers from stock. Forecasts were wrong and customers had to accept what was on offer. This is still the case in most businesses today.

This was fine, as long as the market grew and the company could sell all it could make. Ohno saw this would end and the waste in this batch production system would become a problem again.

So he determined to find a ways to remove the waste by successively overcoming the constraints to producing in process sequence again. The most famous example is reducing time for changing over a production line die from eight hours to less than 10 minutes. As he did so he found he could quadruple productivity and cut throughput times and defects by 90 per cent. This allowed the factory to respond very quickly and to make only the cars the customer ordered. Toyota was the first agile producer in the world.

Other industries looking for a new business model have also begun to follow Toyota's example. Aerospace and construction are learning how lean production, as the generic version of TPS became known, can have the same dramatic effect in their industries. Once you learn to distinguish steps that add value for the end customer from those that add only cost, and begin to optimise the sequence of steps, you quickly see the potential Ohno sought.

Toyota is driven by a determination to root out every form of waste and TPS was only the start. At the same time, other less well- known pioneers inside Toyota were putting together a radically different way of managing product development, a customer responsive ordering system and a new model of supplier co-ordination. Their stories are as fascinating as Ohno's.

So are the struggles to transfer their systems to the rest of the world. What became the Toyota business model formed the basis for Toyota's dramatic climb to number three in the world automotive makers' league. The rest is history - Toyota is now a global concern challenging hard for the top position during the next decade.

Having defined the model for the industry to follow Toyota now wants to be one of the first to redefine the product for a greenhouse constrained world. This book is not another guide to just-in-time, Kanban or TPS, or a dry company history. Neither is it an exhaustive analysis or critique of Toyota. What it offers is a glimpse behind the mask at the key people across Toyota that made it what it is today - in their own words. Here you get an accurate picture of what it feels like inside Toyota. The true mark of a Toyota person is that they are quietly very aware of the extraordinary example they have created but they also realise how much more there is to do.

Toyota is well down a path that others are just beginning to follow.

Professor Daniel T Jones

The reviewer founded the Lean Enterprise Research Centre at Cardiff University Business School, and is the author of `Lean Thinking'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Sheridan Maine: Financial Accountant

£150 - £190 Daily Rate: Sheridan Maine: One of London's leading water supplier...

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

George Parlour: Client Billings Assistant

£15 - £17 Hourly Rate: George Parlour: Do you have experience in media billing...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor