Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma Definitions

Glossary terms, history, people and definitions about Lean and Six Sigma

Toyota Production System

The Toyota Production System (TPS) is an integrated socio-technical system developed by Toyota (automotive manufacturer) to efficiently organize manufacturing and logistics, including the interaction with suppliers and customers, to minimize cost and wasteNampachi Hayashi claims that TPS should have been called “Toyota Process Development System.” Most uses of the word “Lean” are actually referring to TPS.

The philosophy is to work intelligently and eliminate waste so that only minimal inventory is needed. This increases cash flow and reduces physical space needs, and makes it easier to deliver the required results smoothly through internal processes one piece at a time (single piece flow) to the end customer.

The system is also known by the more generic “lean manufacturing” and “just-in-time production” or “JIT Manufacturing.”

This system, more than any other aspect of the company, is responsible for having made Toyota the company it is today. Toyota has long been recognized as a leader in the automotive manufacturing and production industry. In the early 1950s, the company faced near bankruptcy. After that major event that transformed the company, they have recorded steady sales and market-share growth, with hardly any years that have not been profitable.

The secret to their success is their culture around continually exposing problems in their system and viewing them as opportunities for improvement (positive not a negative), and changing the role of managers into coaches and mentors to their employees on how to scientifically and interatively solve these problems.

The majority of the system was originally developed beginning in 1948 through 1975, with major influences from Taiichi Ohno, Eiji Toyoda, and Shigeo Shingo.

A visit by Eiji Toyoda (an engineer and member of the founding family of Toyota) to the River Rouge Ford Plant in 1950 sparked the creation of the Toyota Production System. He famously stated to his colleagues at Toyota upon his return that “there ares some possibilities to improve the production system”.

TPS also incorporates the principles of Total Quality Control (TQC), which is a comprehensive approach that engages all employees in preventing or detecting quality issues at the source (not downstream from where it was created).

The purpose of TPS is to identify and reduce three primary obstacles or deviations from optimal allocation of resources within the system:

TPS is grounded on two main conceptual pillars:

  • Just-in-time – meaning “Making only what is needed, only when it is needed, and only in the amount that is needed”
  • Jidoka – (Autonomation) meaning “Automation with a human touch”

The underlying principles of TPS (called the Toyota Way) are as follows:

  • Continuous improvement
    • Challenge
      • We form a long-term vision, meeting challenges with courage and creativity to realize our dreams.
    • Kaizen
      • We improve our business operations continuously, always driving for innovation and evolution.
    • Genchi Genbutsu
      • Go to the source (gemba) to find the facts to make correct decisions.
  • Respect for people
    • Respect
      • We respect others, make every effort to understand each other, take responsibility and do our best to build mutual trust.
    • Teamwork
      • We stimulate personal and professional growth, share the opportunities of development and maximize individual and team performance.

Some of the key tools and concepts used within TPS include:

Critics of TPS felt that it was successful because of the Japanese culture. After implementing it successfully at the NUMMI facility, that showed that these techniques are universal.



The History of Toyota’s automobile manufacturing