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History of the Toyota Production System

6 min read

Since the start of the industrial revolution there has been constant improvement and innovation in how things are done. This has helped to push the manufacturing industry forward and made possible many of the incredible products that are available today. While there is no shortage of ideas, concepts, and inventions that helped to push industry forward, few of them have been as impactful as the Toyota Production System (TPS).

Despite the fact that the vast majority of people in the world have never heard of TPS, the strategies it has generated have undoubtedly impacted just about everyone. Learning about the history of the Toyota Production System will help to give a foundation to what it is and how it works, which can be very beneficial to any organization looking to implement the TPS strategies.

What is the Toyota Production System?

Broadly speaking, the Toyota Production System is a set of strategies that were developed to help manufacturing companies to better organize the way they do their work. This includes both the actual manufacturing aspects of the company as well as the logistical steps that they need to go through. As the name implies, TPS was originally developed for the auto industry, and specifically for the Toyota Motor Company.

The strategies involved, however, have been adapted for use across just about all other types of manufacturing. In addition, TPS concepts have even been adjusted for use in many industries beyond automotive.

Early History of the Toyota Production System

The Toyota Production System was developed by teams at the Toyota Motor Company. This system was built up over the course of many years and is generally said to have gotten its earliest start in 1948. From then until 1975 it was changed and advanced in many ways, which helped to give Toyota some significant advantages over the competition.

Some of the first inspirations for TPS began when the founder of Toyota, Kiichiro Toyoda, was looking at how American supermarkets worked. The way that supermarkets scheduled the deliveries of their products based on when their existing inventory was selling gave him the ideas that developed into just-in-time manufacturing, which is one of the core principals of TPS.

Over the course of decades, many other key concepts were added into the larger Toyota Production System. These concepts helped the company to be able to operate far more efficiently while also improving the quality of their vehicles dramatically. Most people will credit TPS with pushing the Toyota Motor Company forward to become a global leader in auto manufacturing.

Key Individuals to the TPS

In addition to Kiichiro Toyoda, there are two other individuals who are largely credited with the success of the Toyota Production System. The first is Taichi Ohno. He was one of the first people who worked to catch up to the American manufacturers, which was a challenge put forth by Toyoda. Instead of trying to come up with a new system from scratch, Ohno began studying the way Ford was doing business and learned about what was working so well for them. From there, he began a process of trial and error which went on for years.

Shigeo Shingo was a consultant at Toyota who also helped to implement what is now called the Toyota Production System. While he was not one of the original people who worked on this system, he is credited helping the system to find success within the company. More importantly, he wrote a book on just-in-time manufacturing, which was based on the TPS.

His book, known simply as the, “Green Book” by most people, has been used by companies around the world to help them implement these strategies. In many ways, it was this book that helped the Toyota system to really become a global phenomena.

Key Concepts of TPS

Learning about some of the key concepts or principles of TPS will help companies to get a good idea of how it works and why it has been so effective. By focusing effort on these concepts, a manufacturing facility is able to improve nearly every aspect of the way the company operates. Taking a wholistic approach to manufacturing had not been done to this level prior to the advent of TPS, which is why it gave Toyota such a great advantage until similar strategies were adopted by other auto companies around the world.

There are generally fourteen principal concepts associated with TPS. Each of these concepts has a full strategy and justification associated with it, but for the purposes of this overview of the history of TPS each of them will simply be listed:

  • Focus on a Long-Term Philosophy
  • Create Continuous Flow Within Manufacturing
  • Take Steps to Prevent Overproduction
  • Create Consistent Level Workload
  • Improve the Corporate Culture
  • Standardize Tasks
  • Implement Visual Communication
  • Take Advantage of Tested and Proven Technologies
  • Pass on TPS Concepts
  • Develop Team Members
  • Respect All Stakeholders
  • Always Look for Improvement Opportunities
  • Implement Changes Quickly
  • Reflect on Processes

These broad principles will help to ensure a company is able to stay focused not just on producing a specific product but improving the way the company operates at every level. When done properly, this will help to improve the products being made, reduce the amount of waste that is generated, boost the morale of the employees, and much more.

Manufacturing Strategies Supporting TPS

The Toyota Production System is a high-level strategy that typically encompasses many other strategies. This is especially true when TPS is used in manufacturing. Since most companies are obviously not going to call their strategy ‘Toyota Production Systems’ the concepts have taken on their own meanings. The following are some of the most popular methodologies used today that got their start from TPS.

  • Jikoda – This is when a company strives to automate as much of a process as possible, while maintaining the human touch that makes it effective.
  • Just-In-Time – One of the most important concepts within TPS, Just-in-Time manufacturing allows a company to minimize the amount of inventory they have on hand at any given time.
  • LeanLean manufacturing has a long history and it is more popular today than ever before. This is a system where waste is minimized and the flow of manufacturing happens as efficiently as possible.
  • Kaizen – Kaizen is another Japanese word that translates into the concept of continuous improvement, which is an essential goal of the TPS.
  • Kanban – Kanban is another word that is used to reference the just-in-time manufacturing philosophy that is so effective at Toyota.
  • Many Others – Of course, there are many other supporting strategies that have been used with the Toyota Production System.

Any time a company is interested in getting the benefits of the Toyota Production System, it is important that they research the concepts behind it. Since the TPS is a large and overarching set of concepts, it is not able to be understood with just a simple answer. Instead, looking at all of the above mentioned ideas, and how they can be used together, is the most effective way to learn about what TPS really is.

TPS Expanding to Other Organizations

As the Toyota motor company continued to grow and become more successful than ever, many people from outside the organization began to take notice. It quickly became clear that the Toyota Production System was the reason why they have been able to make such rapid improvements to virtually every aspect of their company.

As more and more companies learned about the processes, they began incorporating them into their own organizations. Even other motor companies were using the strategies that were developed by Toyota. Of course, other companies do not call these concepts the Toyota Production System. Instead, they typically reference them based on some of the underlying strategies.

For example, millions of organizations today will claim that they are following lean manufacturing methodologies. Many others follow principals such as Six Sigma. While these concepts have evolved significantly over the years, there is no doubt that they got much of their beginnings from the TPS.

In some cases, companies did their best to follow the methodologies used by Toyota as closely as possible. This was a proven way to improve their manufacturing efforts. Companies around the world have been able to make rapid improvements to just about every aspect of manufacturing as well as other industries.

Implementing TPS Today

Understanding the history of the Toyota Production System is an important step that any company needs to take when implementing it into their own organization. Fortunately, there are many different tools and resources that can be used to help a company to get started with a successful implementation.

Since so many organizations either use TPS or some variation of it, there are many people throughout the manufacturing industry that have experience with it. In addition, while the concepts behind the TPS are very effective, they typically are not extremely complicated or difficult to learn and emulate.

If your organization wants to benefit from this set of strategies that has helped other organizations around the world, it is worth the effort. Just make sure that everyone in your company gets the training and education they need to get it done successfully.

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