Just-in-time philosophy, focused on consistent quality improvement, propelled Toyota to become a leading global car manufacturer. However, its global expansion and limited number of experts relative to its global operations weakened this focus in North America.
While Toyota remains a competitive automobile manufacturer, it experienced recurring periods of decline in its quality standing. Now, it has to strengthen its JIT philosophy.
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Toyota’s focus on quality is consistent with the just-in-time philosophy. JIT means eradicating or decreasing to the least possible level wastage in the production process. By doing so, the company can pursue a range of outcomes including decrease in inventory, cost reduction, error minimization, and high quality. Quality is an outcome of implementing JIT while the focus on quality is a path to implementing JIT.
Toyota’s achievement of a high quality standing during its peak periods is a testament to the focus on quality as a possible means of implementing JIT (Bozarth and Handfield 547). It is also possible to implement JIT without a strong quality focus. Reducing inventory, minimizing cost and eradicating error could also be paths in implementing JIT. However, these paths including quality are interrelated and reinforcing so that the focus on other paths still require the achievement of a certain level of quality especially in minimizing errors and reducing costs.
The quality focus of Toyota worked because of its coordinators. These coordinators are mid-level managers in the manufacturing plants in Japan with decades of experience of the car company’s JIT philosophy called Toyota Production System (TPS) (Bozarth and Handfield 546).
These coordinators played a key role in promoting TPS to Toyota’s employees because these oriented and trained the shop-floor managers and workers in the American manufacturing plant on ways of addressing actual issues emerging from the production line (547).
This practical approach encouraged innovativeness and responsiveness to lower wastage. Coordinators are difficult to replicate because their deep knowledge emerged from decades of experience. Time to develop coordinators is a luxury given the current need of Toyota to expand and boost production to meet growing demand.
Hajime Oba differentiated Toyota’s TPS with the JIT strategy of the three automobile manufacturers in Detroit. He claimed that the JIT approach in Detroit is superficial since the intention was only to reduce inventory without really getting into the essence of JIT (Bozarth and Handfield 547).
There is some truth to this. American car manufacturers operate more through textbook theories of efficiency, which implies using the least possible input in maximizing output, and with formality or impersonal management highlighting distinctions in task assignments, processes and systems. This necessarily leads to a different JIT approach relative to the Japanese perspective of JIT.
The tenet ‘haste makes waste’ captures the situation in Toyota’s Georgetown plant. In the 1990s, Toyota received recognition for high quality through automobile quality surveys (Bozarth and Handfield 547). Through the work of its coordinators, the Georgetown plant even received recognition as the second best in terms of the quality of cars manufactured in the plant (547). This propelled sales of Toyota cars in North America.
The spike in demand pushed the plant to speed up production until it came to a point when quality suffered. With a limited number of coordinators for a large plant and language barriers, there was movement away from the TPS (547).
In releasing the Camry, the company received many quality complaints from customers leading to the plummeting of its quality standing (548). Toyota is attempting to reassert the TPS in its Georgetown plant by recruiting a Japanese TPS expert to motivate middle managers to work the floor again.
Toyota’s quality focused TPS has worked and it still works. However, the automobile manufacturer needs to adjust implementation to consider its growth and expansion. Toyota needs to have sufficient coordinators and this time more American coordinators for the North American plant trained in its quality-based JIT philosophy.
Bozarth, Cecil, and Robert Handfield. Introduction to Operations and Supply Chain Management. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2007.
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