Any reasonably class covering manufacturing engineering will talk about Toyota and how they’ve created a process that’s really helped them launch ahead of many other car makers. They’ve long inspired me. This NY Times Magazine profile of Toyota reminded me of that.
Management theorists who study Toyotaâ€™s production system tend to say that it is difficult to replicate, insofar as the companyâ€™s methods are not simply a series of techniques but a way of thinking about teamwork, products and efficiency. Still, some aspects of the system were clearly visible in San Antonio. In the Tundra plant, there is no real inventory of parts, which is a hallmark of Toyotaâ€™s approach. Once a truck chassis begins its run on the factory line, an order goes out to, say, an on-site parts supplier that provides seats for the interior. At Avanzar, an independent company located in a large workroom adjacent to the assembly line, I watched workers build a car seat from scratch. They chose a raw steel frame with springs, put it on their own minifactory assembly line to add padding, then leather, and then they transferred it (via pulley, over a partition wall) to the Tundra assembly line, where it was installed in the truck. If the front seat had not been ordered 85 minutes earlier, it would not exist.
It reminds me of a Forbes profile of Honda I read a couple years ago.
Of all the bizarre subsidiaries that big companies can find themselves with, Harmony Agricultural Products, founded and owned by Honda Motor, is one of the strangest. This small company near Marysville, Ohio produces soybeans for tofu. Soybeans? Honda couldn’t brook the sight of the shipping containers that brought parts from Japan to its nearby auto factories returning empty. So Harmony now ships 33,000 pounds of soybeans to Japan. An inveterate tinkerer, Honda also set up a center nearby to develop better soybean varieties and improve agricultural processes.
Fantastic out-of-the-box thinking!