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OM in the News: Eiji Toyoda’s Death at Age 100

September 19, 2013
Eiji  Toyoda at NUMMI California plant in 1985

Eiji Toyoda at NUMMI California plant in 1985

Eiji Toyoda, a member of Toyota Motor’s founding family and architect of its “lean manufacturing” method that helped turn the automaker into a global powerhouse, died this week in Toyota City, at age 100. “Toyoda,” writes The New York Times (Sept. 18, 2013), “changed the face of modern manufacturing.”

Toyoda is said to have developed an uncanny ability to spot waste. “Problems are rolling all around in front of your eyes,” Mr. Toyoda once said. “Whether you pick them up and treat them as problems is a matter of habit. If you have the habit, then you can do whatever you have a mind to.”

In 1950, he set out on a 3-month tour to survey Ford’s plant in Detroit, then the largest and most efficient factory in the world. That year, Toyota had produced just 2,685 automobiles, compared with the 7,000 vehicles the Ford plant was rolling out in a single day. Mr. Toyoda was unfazed, bringing back a thick booklet that outlined some of Ford’s quality-control methods; the company translated it into Japanese, changing “Ford” to “Toyota” in all references.

Even as he aggressively expanded production at Toyota, Mr. Toyoda applied a manufacturing culture based on concepts like “kaizen,” a commitment to continuous improvements suggested by the workers themselves, and JIT production, a tireless effort to eliminate waste. Those ideas became a core part of what came to be called the Toyota Production System. “One of the features of the Japanese workers is that they use their brains as well as their hands,” he said in 1986. “Our workers provide 1.5 million suggestions a year, and 95% of them are put to practical use. There is an almost tangible concern for improvement in the air at Toyota.”

The methods Mr. Toyoda nurtured have had global influence, and Toyoda pushed expansion overseas, establishing the company’s joint factory with GM, called NUMMI. There he introduced his lean-production methods as part of a migration of Japanese auto manufacturing the US.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Summarize the principles of TPS (see Ch.16).

2. What was Eiji Toyoda’s major contribution to manufacturing?

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