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Poka yoke was initially conceptualized in Japan over half a century ago by Shigeo Shingo who was employed as an engineer by Toyota. In Japanese, poka yoke means "mistake-proofing". Yoke is literally "to avoid," and poka translates as "inadvertent errors." Poka yoke, therefore, is a technique for building mechanisms into a process that prevent people from making mistakes.
It's illogical to expect that production staff can perform like machinery, with identical outcomes each time. Just one minor interruption or distraction can result in work being processed incorrectly. Badly designed processes needing close supervision will often contribute to unplanned problems.
Poka yoke encourages designing or developing equipment, methodologies, and procedures to make it very difficult for anyone to make errors. It's based on the principle that everybody should work collectively to attain zero defects and that product quality begins with good design.
Many examples of poka yoke exist in daily life even outside of the workplace.
- Microwaves turn off automatically when the door is open to prevent waves from escaping.
- USB cables only fit into computers or laptops in one direction.
- Elevator doors sense when someone is in the doorway to prevent people from getting crushed.
In manufacturing environments, poka yoke is used in many ways:
- Machine guards prevent people from reaching into dangerous machinery.
- A piece of equipment won't start when someone is standing too close to it.
Poka yoke is a simple concept, but once implemented, these techniques can prevent big problems with little effort.