Articles of Interest

The philosophy of TPM

Zero breakdowns

No loss of performance or productive capacity

Zero defects attributable to poor equipment status

Zero downtime

“Developing People Not Robots Through Karakuri”

While reading Jeff Liker’s recent Tesla article exploring contrasting viewpoints about the right level of automating work, I couldn’t help but reflect on a recent visit to Toyota Motor Kyushu, or TMK. Last month Mark Reich and I spent two days there walking the gemba. TMK is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corporation, based just outside Fukuoka City on the island of Kyushu. Toyota created TMK in the 1980’s to manufacture its then new Lexus brand. It continues to manufacture Lexus vehicles—one every 72 seconds during our time at the plant.
In his article, Liker reflects on the future relationship between man and machine, specifically on the question of whether the dream of full automation should indeed be an ideal future state. I got a sense of Toyota’s current thinking about this very question during my time there, and was intrigued by what I learned. Indeed, the TMK looks less like a factory from the future and more like a factory from the past. This is primarily due to something called “karakuri.”
Karakuri literally means a type of doll that moves with simple mechanics. In manufacturing, karakuri refers to simplified engineering for kaizen. Team leaders and operators are challenged to use levers, pulleys, counterweights, and gravity in order to increase productivity, quality, and safety. Utilization of compressed air, hydraulics, and robotics is prohibited. It’s as if TMK is trying to build the Lexus RX and CT on a shoestring budget. The roughly $186 billion (as of this writing) market cap company is bootstrapping its luxury vehicle assembly!
Karakuri is easily understood when observing it, but more difficult to understand through words alone. I have (poorly) illustrated one example that I witnessed in assembly. While I am not certain of the precise function of the apparatus, this illustration is based on what I gathered from observation. The parts container adjacent to the operator sits on a sort of trapdoor that is connected by a string to a partially-filled water bottle serving as a counterweight. Once the parts container empties, the counterweight falls, triggering the floor beneath the container to open. The container slides down a shoot for pickup by the material handler, while a full parts container slides into place for use. This karakuri removes the operator’s periodic work of taking down the empty parts container.
This is but one of dozens of examples that exist along the TMK assembly line. The proliferation of karakuri is driven by a two-year training program for team leaders. Coaches skilled in karakuri spend the first year training team leaders on karakuri engineering methods; they spend the second year teaching others how to lead operators practicing karakuri. The link between improving the work and developing people is explicit. Team leaders aren’t just challenged to improve the work through karakuri themselves; they’re challenged to coach their team members to do the same.
Karakuri demonstrates that Toyota’s working currency is brainpower, grown through rigorous problem-solving and mentors who challenge their students. The wallet takes a backseat to the brain. Toyota’s response to the challenge of increasing kaizen capability wasn’t to find smarter people or more clever machines. Instead, it was to 1) make kaizen more accessible by simplifying engineering and 2) develop people to make work better using the engineering.
It’s unknown what this specific factory tells about what all future factories will look like, but does provide an alternative scenario than the fully automated system some envision. Tesla is betting on a highly-automated factory in which some humans support a whole lot of robots: complex machinery supported by concentrated human capability. Toyota—at least for now—thinks it will have some robots supporting a lot of humans: simple machinery supporting distributed capability.
Thus far, Toyota is winning the argument. Clever use of pulleys, counterweights, and gravity by assembly workers is outperforming pricey robots trained by highly educated engineers.
This is not to say that Tesla can’t get to where it wants to go. It may very well build a lights-out factory churning out a million Model 3 vehicles a year (assuming customers want a million Model 3 vehicles per year). But its current state is what even its founder Elon Musk refers to as “production hell”, while TMK has been a J.D. Power Platinum plant for two years running.
What we can conclude for now is that TMK is producing the highest quality vehicles in the world by making ever-clever people and using ever simpler tools. For those anxious about the future relationship between humans and robots (who works for who or do humans work at all?) TMK offers reason to hope that humans will win the race—or at the very least have a long runway on which to run.
People are very good at making things, and at making things better. It seems that Toyota is betting that this won’t change anytime soon. For the time being, as a means of thriving in the future, they are investing in people and pulleys rather than robots.

Matthew Savas (2018) Developing People Not Robots Through Karakuri

“7 Skills Managers Will Need” Summary

This article discusses the upcoming changes in the workplace environment that require a new set of skills to flourish and thrive in. With the rise of A.I’s, machine learning, and robots, there are many jobs that will be replaced by these machines while also pushing for an increase in other fields. Additionally, millennials entering the workforce have a different concept of what an office should be. Therefore, managers should develop new skills to prepare themselves for the oncoming change. First and foremost, managers should develop their technology management skills since technology “is going to grow alongside us” (Moran, “7 Skills Managers Will Need In 2025”). Technology will be present in the workplace in the future and managers will need to be comfortable around change and embrace the new technology. They will also have to be able to manage the changing relationship between people and the emerging tech as well. Managers should also focus on an out-centric leaderships style. The traditional method of “what I say goes” will not work in a tight labor market composed mainly of millennials. Instead, manager should focus on developing the people and teams around them. The focus should be what team is best suited for that specific need instead of focusing on what the team needs.

Additionally, effective managers will have to be able to identify soft skills to assess for strong critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. These two are imperative for a fast-paced workplace. Managers will must also stay “abreast of emerging tools and assessments” for screening candidates accurately (Moran, “7 Skills Managers Will Need In 2025”). There will also need to be a transition towards Results-Only Work Environments (ROWEs). Effective managers will create environments where the focus is more on the success and results of the product/project. “As we see more workplaces like [ROWEs] and more flexibility in the workplace, managers are really going to have to focus more on the communication and aspects and relationship management” (Moran, “7 Skills Managers Will Need In 2025”). Manager will also have to promote an environment with the appropriate levels of tension and constructive debate that can produce innovative ideas and timely results that can get to market when consumers are looking for solutions. In addition, managers must be transparent to foster trust between the employees and employers. Building this trust can build cultures that retain good team members. And finally, managers should also have a high emotional intelligence. Like the IQ test, and EQ test measure your emotional intelligence. People with higher levels of emotional intelligence have higher empathy levels and being self-aware about your own strengths and weaknesses. They can also see a situation from another’s point of view which can help managers understand what isn’t working within their teams.

Works Cited, Kenzo Tsuru
Moran, Gwen. “7 Skills Managers Will Need In 2025.” Fast Company. Fast Company, 24 Aug. 2017. Web.

In your company, do continuous improvement or TPM?

TPM – A Preventive Management System

People who know, understand that PMS is prevention. We always say “If you are not warning, you are not doing TPM.”However, it is sad to see how, in companies where in theory they have been implementing “TPM” for years and say TPM is already part of their work culture, the activities have become a simple succession of “Continuous Improvements”. Carrying out “Continuous Improvement” is simply.”Continuous Improvements,” but let be clear, is not TPM because the most important part is missing, and that is “Prevention.” That is why, before making any “Improvement”, we must not forget that restoration must be done first. Making improvements to make improvements is extremely expensive for the company and without realizing it, Many times the “improvements” are the subsequent causes of other problems! If an equipment has worked well during the last 5 years and suddenly begins to have breakdowns, it is certain that some component has reached the end of its useful life and has to be changed. We must restore or bring the equipment to its basic conditions, we must not confuse ourselves. This simple concept sometimes escapes us and we end up re-designing and re-engineering unnecessary, often counterproductive and expensive. In the end, what makes us to be preventive, are the standards. Restore or make improvements without revising the standards is at the end, solve with “bombing” … For much “improvement” we do, if we do not prevent, we will continue to put out fires …. If an equipment has worked well during the last 5 years and suddenly begins to have breakdowns, it is certain that some component has reached the end of its useful life and has to be changed. We must restore or bring the equipment to its basic conditions, we must not confuse ourselves. This simple concept sometimes escapes us and we end up re-designing and re-engineering unnecessary, often counterproductive and expensive. In the end, what makes us to be preventive, are the standards.

Yuri Tsuru “Julio 2017”

“The Open-Office Trap” Summary

Maria Konnikova starts her article by describing how her high school moved to a new building where one wing had classroom without doors. She described how information from each room could be heard from another. With multiple classes going on at once, the experience was “distracting at best and frustrating at worst” (Konnikova, “The Open-Office Trap”). Yet, despite the inefficiency of these classrooms, approximately 70% of offices now have an open floor plan (Konnikova, “The Open-Office Trap”). The open office originated in Hamburg, Germany to improve the work place efficiency. It was thought that the open floor plan would facilitate communication and idea flow but a group of psychologists proved otherwise. They conducted an experiment after an oil and gas company transitioned to an open floor plan to assess the employees’ performance and satisfaction levels. The employees suffered in every field and proved that “the new space was disruptive, stressful, and cumbersome” and productivity fell (Konnikova, “The Open-Office Trap”).

Psychologist Matthew Davis conducted further studies and confirmed that although open office promoted a sense of unity, it was damaging to the workers’ attention span, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. The science shows that open office lower productivity, and increases stress levels and distractions. The study may, however, mask the fact that younger individuals perform better in open floor office because of their ability to multitask but a study by Alena Maher and Courtney von Hippel found that the better you are a blocking out distractions, the more effectively you can work in an open office ((Konnikova, “The Open-Office Trap”). However, neuroscientist Anthony Wagner argues that habitual multitaskers have a harder time getting back to work after being distracted. Considering all the research that has been done, it is possible that although millennials are more open to the open floor plan, it may be ingraining a cycle of underperformance in their generation.

Works Cited, Kenzo Tsuru
Konnikova, Maria. “The Open-Office Trap.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 20 June 2017. Web.

“The Boss Stops Here” Summary

“The Boss Stops Here” by Matthew Shaer explains the writers experience as he observes and records his experiences at Menlo, a successful software company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Shaer discovers during his first day that there are no bosses and no middle managers, at least in a traditional sense. As a result, all the reassigning and fluctuations are done by the entire team during their daily morning meeting. Each pair comes forward and describes their schedule for the next eight hours. The schedules can range from coding projects to organizing the storage closet. The office is so open, transparent, and flat that even the hiring and firing of employees is done by a committee before being approved by the whole staff. The office even has a chart with the names of the employees and their salaries.

Matthew Shaer suggested that such an open office concept might be “a little unnerving to have your salary exposed to your colleagues” but was instead told that it was liberating (Shaer, “The Boss Stops Here”). Although employees reportedly felt a higher sense of comradery within the company, the lack of managerial positions does slow down certain processes. Since there isn’t a supervisor to assign tasks, there is a loss of the “quick mandate” – the ability to swiftly and effectively mobilize an organization (Shaer, “The Boss Stops Here”). This type of structure is empowering to the workers but sacrifices time and efficiency. Employees at Menlo also reported that it takes time to get used to the demands of the office (i.e., the lack of doors, privacy, and constant, sometimes exhausting, presences of the rest of the staff). But to counter this, the company introduce “walkies” which are ten-minute group walks around the block to unwind and see the sun. One employee, Natalie Svaan, said regarding to when she was first hired, “I was so wiped out. I’d just come home and collapse. But you know it’s strange; it’s gotten to be energizing” (Shaer, “The Boss Stops Here”). This style of office does not work for everyone though. Menlo made approximately $4 million in revenue in 2012 and the employee retention rates are notably high and although the flat, open office may not work for all industries, for a software company like Menlo, it is exactly what they need to be successful.

Works Cited, Kenzo Tsuru
Shaer, Matthew. “The Boss Stops Here.” New York Magazine, 16 June 2013. Web.