Understanding the Toyota Production System

 Share this Page

Toyota Production System

TPS Diagram The Toyota Production System, or TPS, is a strategy that helps organize the manufacturing and logistical aspects of a business. Developed by Toyota, it has a special focus on auto manufacturing, though it has been modified to work with just about every type of manufacturing and other business around. The system helps bring improved organization to a facility, reduces waste, and can improve the bottom line of companies that adopt it.

Whenever learning about TPS, it is helpful to use a common visual that shows this system as a "house."

Just like a properly built house, this system helps manufacturers create effective strategies that will eliminate waste, improve quality, constantly innovate, and improve the overall bottom line. 

History of TPS

TPS was developed between 1948 and 1975. Japanese industrial engineers Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda are the two primary individuals credited with the development of this system. Toyota today is recognized as a leader in the auto manufacturing industry, and most other manufacturers use this production system, at least in some fashion.

TPS is seen as one of the major systems that led to lean manufacturing, and many of the lean concepts people are familiar with today can be directly linked to the Toyota. No matter what type of facility is being run, learning about TPS can help inspire innovation and prepare a company to implement these types of improvements.

What Are the Toyota Principles?

To understand TPS, it is important to learn about the principles used in this system. These principals are phrased many different ways depending on the company, but they have the same or similar meanings across industries. A quick overview of these Toyota principles are as follows:

  • Lowering Setup Times - The time it takes to set up a new task is often extensive and is always wasteful. Making efforts to reduce the length of time it takes to set up a new production run is critical to TPS. When done properly, this can save days or even months of downtime in many manufacturing facilities.
  • Reducing the Size of Each Production Lot - Creating products in smaller batches reduces the need for storage, large up-front supply investments, and much more. Small batches run more efficiently are key to TPS.
  • Improve the Source Quality - Purchasing quality supplies from a good source will help avoid defects throughout the production process. Low quality parts often create problems that are undetectable until long into production, which means an excessive amount of waste.
  • Keep Equipment Properly Maintained - While performing maintenance on machines does require downtime, it should never be delayed. Properly maintaining a machine will extend its life and ensure there are fewer unexpected outages, which are extremely wasteful.
  • Use Pull Production Techniques - Using a pull production method can reduce the need for keeping large supplies of parts in stock. The pull system uses the just-in-time manufacturing principles, which have proven to be very effective.
  • Partner Suppliers - Suppliers of parts are considered partners and are offered training on how to improve their quality and efficiency. Suppliers are a key part of any manufacturing process, so including them in a system like this is essential.

These are just some of the main principles of TPS. In addition, this system encourages continuous improvement, respect for people (especially employees), long-term planning, eliminating waste, and more. When implemented properly, TPS can have an extremely positive impact on the entire manufacturing process.

Understanding Toyota Manufacturing

When trying to understand Toyota manufacturing and the TPS, it is important to look at some of the other concepts used within this methodology. The following examples were often developed based on TPS, but they are now considered important aspects of it by many companies.

Lean Management

The concept of lean management helps companies focus on eliminating all waste. This includes wasted time, wasted products, and wasted services. Lean management specifically looks at how companies can operate better and what the management team can do to help. Lean management is a component of lean manufacturing, which has the overall goal of eliminating waste from the workplace.

There are many types of waste to consider in any workplace, and in reality, it is impossible to get rid of it all. Even small improvements that eliminate waste from a process can build into a lot of savings over time. Continuous improvement in these areas is a common theme when it comes to lean management.

Kaizen Toyota

In fact, the concept of continuous improvement is so integral to TPS that it has its own term. Kaizen is a Japanese term that means continuous improvement. While Kaizen strategies are certainly interested in finding ways to make large scale improvements, they also focus on the little things. If Toyota can find a way to reduce the amount of physical waste created when making one car by just 1%, it would add up over time to be huge.

Considering the potential benefits of all improvement ideas can help find even the little things that will, over time, save a company a significant amount of money. Kaizen Toyota isn't just about eliminating waste, however. It also looks to continuously improve the quality of the products that they make.

Toyota also has a strong focus on working to improve each employee. From the CEO down to the assembly line worker, improving people will lead to an improved company. Those who are given proper training, encouraged to better themselves, and seen as a key part of a company are going to perform at a higher level. They will also be much more likely to find problems and provide solutions to those issues.

Kanban Toyota

Kanban Board

Another essential part of TPS is the "just-in-time" manufacturing system. This is known as Kanban, which means signboard or billboard in Japanese. It is a strategy for scheduling things in the manufacturing process. Rather than having a massive inventory of each part that is required for the products being made, systems running with the Kanban Toyota strategy will have only as many as are needed for a specific amount of time.

When the amount of a certain part is low, it will alert the supplier so they can deliver more. When running perfectly, the new shipment will have the new parts arriving at the production line where they are needed just as the last one was being used.

It is very difficult to coordinate this to the exact moment, but that is the goal of the Kanban Toyota system. Operating in this way allows a company to reduce the risk of being stuck with a large amount of a certain part if the demand suddenly dries up. It also eliminates the need to have large areas for storing these types of parts.

Terminology Used in TPS

Most people quickly find that there are many unusual terms used in TPS. These are typically Japanese terms used to describe a specific concept or process that is important to the overall success of a project or system itself.

Learning what some of these terms are and what they mean can help avoid a lot of confusion and other issues both during the initial implementation and long into the future. Some of the most common terms used are:

  • Andon - This term is literally translated into signboard and is used to describe a large board (often a TV or computer monitor) that is used to alert supervisors or others in the area of a problem at a given location in the production process.
  • Gemba - This term means "the actual place" and is used to describe a management concept where the supervisors have to spend time on the actual shop floor where the employees are working. This gives them a much better view of what is happening, what problems there are, and where the improvement opportunities exist.
  • Muda - This is a general term that means waste. A big part of TPS is to eliminate waste, so this word will be found in many areas whenever learning about this production system.
  • Mura - Mura simply means unevenness and is a type of waste or defect in a product. It can also be used when discussing how different shifts or different people perform the same task differently. Eliminating mura can help improve efficiency.
  • Muri - This means overburden. Overburdening a person, a machine, or anything else can lead to serious problems. Some companies are tempted to push people or things to their limits, but this only leads to unexpected problems over time.
  • Seiri - This means to sort or remove anything that is not necessary to the process. This is the first of the 5 S's in 5S.
  • Seiton - The second of the 5 S'™s is a term that means to organize. Keeping a facility organized is essential to eliminating waste and having a successful organization.
  • Seiso - Seiso is the third S and means to clean and/or inspect. Keeping a facility clean can help avoid many problems, and inspecting work areas is an important way to identify problems and address them before they cause downtime.
  • Seiketsu - This S means to standardize. Making sure things are done in the most efficient way possible no matter where the work is being done, who is doing it, or when, is the goal of this term.
  • Shitsuke - Finally, the last S in 5S is to sustain. Many companies make improvements and then move on without doing anything to ensure the improvements are sustained over time.

There are many other terms used when discussing TPS. Many companies like to continue using the Japanese words when discussing these types of concepts because it can help set these ideas apart. While it may seem awkward at first, most people will quickly catch on to all of these different words and concepts.

Not only can this help them remember what they all mean, but it is also important to remember the source of the Toyota Production System and the great people who helped innovate the manufacturing industry.


Similar Articles

Lean Manufacturing Guide
5S Lean Guide
5S Label Samples
Other FREE Resources: