Taiichi Ohno, an engineer and former Toyota executive, conceived and launched the fabled Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS facilitates the production of high-quality goods in the quickest and most efficient way possible. The concept revolutionized the Japanese automotive industry, as well as manufacturing systems around the world.
Ohno graduated from Nagoya Higher Technical School (now called Nagoya Institute of Technology) in 1932 with a degree in mechanical engineering. Upon graduation, he was hired at Toyoda Automatic Loom Works Ltd. (Now called Toyota Industries Corporation). Ohno moved to the Toyota Motor Company in 1943. Three years later he was promoted to manage Machine Shop #2 and #3 at the Koromo Plant.
In 1948, alongside Eiji Toyoda, he first started working on ideas to increase productivity and reduce wasted resources. TPS builds off the philosophy of Just-in-Time (JIT) production, created by the founder of Toyota, Sakichi Toyoda, and his son Kiichiro Toyoda. They believed that the best way to gather parts for products, was to get them “Just-in-Time.” This practice was first put into place by Toyoda while producing automatic looms.
Use of JIT within the Toyota Production System means that individual cars can be built to order and that every component must perfectly fit the first time because there are no alternatives available. It is therefore impossible to hide pre-existing manufacturing issues; they must be addressed immediately. The system requires parts to arrive on the assembly line only when it is time for their installation, reducing the need for storage, and making factories smaller and cheaper to operate.
TPS is supported by two conceptual pillars:
- Just-in-Time: Making only what is needed, in the amount it is needed, when it is needed. No wasted time or surplus of materials.
- Jidoka: Loosely translated to “automation with a human touch.” Machines detect their own inconsistencies/mistakes, shutting down production, alerting the supervisor of the error with an “Andon” signal. This process prevents defective products from ever being produced.
Ohno was named executive vice president of Toyota in 1975. After resigning in 1978, Ohno remained a consultant for the company until 1982. He wrote three widely read books: Toyota Production System (1978), Workplace Management (1983), and Just-in-Time for Today and Tomorrow (1986).
Ohno’s career was defined by his work training employees and suppliers on his revolutionary manufacturing philosophy.