GM & Toyota: A Contrast

The differences between Takaoka (Toyota) and Framingham (General Motors) were striking, as observed by the authors. For a start, hardly anyone was in the aisles in Takaoka. The armies of indirect workers so visible at GM were missing, and practically every worker in sight was actually adding value to the car. This fact was even more apparent because Takoaka’s aisles were so narrow.

Toyota’s philosophy about the amount of plant space needed for a given production volume is just the opposite of GM ’s. Toyota believes in having as little space as possible so that face-to-face communication among workers is easier. There is no room to store inventories. GM, by contrast, has believed that extra space is necessary to work on vehicles needing repairs and to store the large inventories needed to ensure smooth production.

The final assembly line also revealed further differences. Less than an hour ’s worth of inventory was next to each worker at Takaoka. The parts went on more smoothly and the work tasks were better balanced, so that every worker worked at about the same pace. When a worker found a defective part, he carefully tagged it and sent it to the quality-control area in order to obtain a replacement part. Once in quality control, employees subjected the part to what Toyota calls “the five why’s” in which, the reason for the defect is traced back to its ultimate cause so that it will not recur. each worker along the line can pull a cord just above the work station to stop the line if any problem is found. At GM only senior managers can stop the line for any reason other than safety – but it stops frequently due to problems with machinery or materials delivery. At Takaoka, every worker can stop the line but the line is almost never stopped, because problems are solved in advance and the same problem never occurs twice. Clearly, paying relentless attention to preventing defects has removed most of the reasons for the line to stop.

Acknowledgement: “The machine that changed the world” book by James P.Womack, Daniel T.Jones, Daniel Roos


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