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Toyota Production System – Early History – Part 1

The Toyota Production System (TPS) was not hatched on the manufacturing floor nor any university. TPS is a result of the history of Toyota. The TPS was forged on economic, competitive and people’s push on the Toyota Company. We believe the best way to understand the TPS is to discuss it in the context of history.

TPS is the best manufacturing system in the world. It propelled an auto manufacturer from a small company 50 years ago to the largest automobile manufacturer today. Toyota can change the model of car it is manufacturing on its manufacturing line every 42 seconds. Toyota is not only the best but it is also improving quickly. The TPS is an ever evolving system that should not be the same today as it was yesterday.

Toyota is where it is today for a multitude of reasons. Some of those reasons are of happenstance and some of them are just because they did smart things. Here is a short list of reasons and capabilities for the TPS:

  • The advantage of the union
  • Lack of hubris
  • Seeing things from a different point of view
  • Lack of materials
  • How projects are executed
  • What is just not good enough

These are just a few of the many differences between Toyota and its competitors. I want to touch on hubris because ironically trying to explain the TPS in a blog format, is hubris. However, I will do my best to transmit summary information to those that may not be willing or need to read a book.

Craft Manufacturing

The best understanding starts with a look at the TPS in context of history. We start with the very first manufacturers of automobiles. In the early 1900s due to the state of tools, materials, processes and so on it was not possible to mass manufacture a car. Skilled craftsmen were needed to mate parts since no two parts came ready to mate. You can imagine the onus this put on quick manufacturing when each part needs to be hand modified in order to work. No two cars produced were the same.

Craft Manufacturing lasted until Ford came in with a better idea.

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