Nov 18 2011
Nov 17 2011
Toyota’s jidoka isn’t just about stopping production when something goes wrong. It is an automation strategy that works because it is incremental and centered on human-machine interactions. It is essential to the strength of manufacturing in high-wage economies and should command more attention than it has so far among Lean implementers.
The most striking characteristic of automation in manufacturing is that, while making progress, it has consistently fallen short of expectations. In Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut articulated the 1950s vision of automated factories: integrated machines produce everything while their former operators are unemployed and the managers spend their time playing silly team-building games at offsite meetings. 60 years on, the most consistently implemented part of Vonnegut’s vision is the silly team-building games…
Nippon Steel’s Yawata Steel Works in Kitakyushu, Japan, produce as much today with 3,000 employees as they did with 40,000 in 1964, and this transition was accomplished without generating massive unemployment. There are other such limited areas of automation success, like the welding and painting of car bodies. When manufacturing jobs are lost today, it is almost never to automation and almost always to cheaper human competition elsewhere. In the words of an experienced operator in a plant making household goods in the US, “When I joined 25 years ago, I expected these jobs to be automated soon, but we’re still doing them the same way.”
What is holding up automation today is not technology but the lack of consideration for people. There are entire books on automation without a paragraph on what their roles should be. Of course, a fully automatic, “lights-out” factory has nobody working inside, so why bother? There are at least two reasons. First, even an automatic plant needs people, to program its processes, tell it what work to do, maintain it, monitor its operations and respond to emergencies. Second, successful automation is incremental and cannot be developed without the help of the people working in the plants throughout the migration.
Enter autonomation, or jidoka, which is sometimes also called “automation with a human touch” but really should be called human-centered automation. Instead of systems of machines and controls, it is about human-machine interactions. In the classical House of Lean model, the two pillars holding up the roof at Just-In-Time and Autonomation, or Jidoka. Figure 1 is lifted from the introduction to Working with Machines, and shows what happens when the jidoka pillar is ignored.
More and more, the Lean literature in English uses the japanese word jidoka rather than autonomation, but with its scope reduced to the idea of stopping production whenever anything goes wrong, and the concept is tucked away under the umbrella of Quality Management.
Toyota’s jidoka is a tricky term, because it is an untranslatable pun. Originally, the Japanese word for automation is jidoka (自動化) , literally meaning “transformation into something that moves by itself.” What Toyota did is add the human radical 人 to the character 動 for “move,” turning it into the character 働 for “work,” which is still pronounced “do” but changes the meaning to “transformation into something that works by itself.” It”s automation with the human radical added, but it is still automation, with all the technical issues the term implies.
The discussion of automation in the first draft of Working with Machines started with the following historical background, which was edited out like the chapter on locomotives and typewriters, on the ground that it contained no actionable recommendations. In this blog, I can let you be the judge of its value.
From tea-serving wind-up dolls to autonomation
The word automation was first used by Ford manufacturing Vice President Delmar Harder in 1947 for devices transferring materials between operations. He set as targets a payback period of at most one year in labor savings, which meant in practice that each device should not cost more than 15% above an operator’s average yearly wages and eliminate at least one operator. While this kind of economic analysis is still used, from the perspective of Toyota’s system, Ford’s focus on materials handling was putting the integration cart before the unit operation horse. Toyota’s approach focuses on individual operations first, and only then addresses movements of parts between them. In 1952, John Diebold broadened the meaning of automation to what has become the common usage, and painted a picture of the near future that was consistent with Kurt Vonnegut’s.
At that time, automatic feedback control was perceived to be the key enabling technology for automation, to be applied to ever larger and more complex systems. It was not a new concept, having been applied since 1788 in the centrifugal governor regulating pressure in a steam engine (See Figure 2)
Figure 2. James Watt’s 1788 centrifugal governor
Applying electronics to feedback control in World War II had made it possible, for example, to move a tank’s gun turret to a target angle just by turning a knob. Postwar progress in the theory and application of feedback control both caused many contemporary thinkers, like Norbert Wiener, to see in the concept a philosophical depth that is truly not there, and to underestimate what else would need to be done in order to achieve automation. Of course, if you cannot tell a machine to take a simple step and expect it to be executed accurately and precisely, then not much else matters. Once you can, however, you are still faced with the problem of sequencing these steps to get a manufacturing job done.
While automatic feedback control was historically central to the development of automatic systems, it is not at center stage in manufacturing automation today. With sufficiently stable processes, open-loop systems work fine, or feedback control is buried deep inside such off-the-shelf components as mass flow controllers, thermostats, or humidity controllers. Manufacturing engineers are occasionally aware of it in the form of variable-speed drives or adaptive control for machine tools, but other issues dominate.
Fixed-sequence and even logic programming also have a history that is as long as that of feedback control and are by no means easier to achieve. Figure 2 shows two examples of 18th century automata moved by gears, levers and cams through sequences that are elaborate but fixed.
Figure 2. 18th century automata from France and Japan
These concepts found their way into practical applications in manufacturing as soon as 1784, with Oliver Evans’s continuous flour mill that integrated five water-powered machines through bucket elevators, conveyors and chutes (See Figure 3). The same kind of thinking later led to James Bonsack’s cigarette making machine in 1881, and to the kind of automatic systems that have dominated high-volume processing and bottling or cartonning plants for 100 years, and to the transfer lines that have been used in automotive machining since World War II.
Fixed-sequence automation works, but only in dedicated lines for products with takt times under 1 second, where the investment is justifiable and flexibility unnecessary. Rube Goldberg machines parody this type of automation.
Automation with flexibility is of course a different goal, and one that has been pursued almost as long, through programmable machines. The earliest example used in production is the Jacquard loom from 1801, shown in Figure 4. It is also considered a precursor to the computer, but it was not possible to make a wide variety of machines programmable until the actual computer was not only invented but made sufficiently small, cheap and easy to use, which didn’t occur until decades after Vonnegut and Diebold were writing.
By the mid 1980’s, the needed technology existed, but the vision of automation remained unfulfilled. In fact, more technology was available than the human beings on the shop floor, in engineering, and in management knew what to do with. As discussed in the post on Opinels and Swiss knives, the computer as a game changer. In manufacturing, this was not widely recognized when it became true, and it still is not today.
Writing in 1952, John Diebold saw nothing wrong with the way manufacturing was done in the best US plants, nor did he have any reason to, as the entire world was looking at the US as a model for management in general and manufacturing in particular. In the 1980’s, however, when GM invested $40B in factory automation, it was automating processes that were no longer competitive and, by automating them, making them more difficult to improve.
Whether the automation pioneers’ vision will ever come true is in question. So far, every time one obstacle has been overcome, another one has taken its place. Once feedback control issues were resolved came the challenge of machine programming. Next is the need to have a manufacturing concept that is worth automating, as opposed to an obsolete approach to flow and unit processes. And finally, the human interface issues discussed must be addressed.
21st century manufacturers do not make automation their overall strategy. Instead, automation is a tool. In a particular cell, for example, one operator is used only 20% of the time, and a targeted automation retrofit to one of the machines in the cell may be the key to eliminating this 20% and pulling the operator out of the cell.
Nov 11 2011
Nov 10 2011
Via Scoop.it – lean manufacturing
TOYOTA City, Japan — Even Steve Jobs, the management maverick and incurable tyrant knew that the best and time-tested strategy is none other than regularly securing the best possible ideas from workers than follow the dictates of a corporate…
Nov 3 2011
Via Scoop.it – lean manufacturing
It is a curious fact that in industry after industry there is at least one company that appears to succeed not by doing the same thing better than everyone else but by playing a completely different game.
Nov 3 2011
In Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, the hero’s nemesis is an academic who constantly lectures on historical details that he often gets wrong. Introductions to Lean, nowadays, often include a section on history, but no source is quoted, there are many inconsistencies with otherwise known facts, and some of the interpretations are confusing.
Manufacturing practices are like life forms. Some appear and go extinct, while others endure forever. Some 2-billion-year old fossils on the shore of Lake Superior match living organisms in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef today. Likewise, some of the oldest ideas on making things are still practiced today. Knowing who developed what techniques when and why is not just about giving credit. Not only does it occasionally make us rediscover a lost art, like TWI, but it also helps us understand its current relevance.
Getting the timeline right matters because of causality; causality, because it explains motivation; motivation, because it determines current relevance. People invent solutions because they have problems. If we are still facing the same problems, we can adopt or adapt their solutions. The people of Toyota found solutions to overcome crises throughout the life of the company, which eventually coalesced into a system, as explained by Takahiro Fujimoto. Their techniques are easiest to understand within their historical context.
The history of manufacturing is poorly documented. We know the exact wording of speeches made by Cicero in the Roman senate in 63 BCE, but we don’t know how the Romans made standard swords, spears, helmets, and other weapons to sustain hundreds of thousands of legionnaires in the field (See Figure 1). Documenting how things were made has never been a priority of historians, and they rarely have the technical knowledge needed.
Figure 1. Cicero and a Roman soldier
Official histories are not to be trusted. School children throughout the world sit through classes where they hear an official account of history intended to create shared narratives. With titles like “Call to freedom,” the manuals make no pretense at objectivity (See Figure 2). In business, it is even worse: official histories are spun by the Public Relations departments of the companies that became dominant in their markets.
The real stories are found in the products, facilities, and documents left over from operations. Jim Womack can still visit today the hall where Venetians assembled galleys 500 years ago. Examining sewing machines at the Smithsonian, David Hounshell noticed that Singer stopped engraving machine serial numbers on parts around 1880, from which he deduces that they mastered interchangeable parts at that time. From memoirs, memos, drawings, specs, photographs and movies we can also infer the methods that were used and the conflicts that took place.
Most of us cannot do this research; we rely on professional historians. They quote their sources, infer cautiously from the facts, and don’t attempt to answer all questions. By contrast, white belts at history produce glib narratives, make up dialogs among historical figures, and presume to know their inner thoughts. As readers, we should tell the difference.
Did Sakichi Toyoda visit Ford in 1911? Several of the historical notes on Lean claim that he did, but there is no mention of such a visit in Mass and Robertson’s essay on the life of Sakichi Toyoda. According to their account, Sakichi Toyoda did visit the US and the UK in 1910, to see textile plants and apply for patents, and was back in Japan by January, 1911. Even if he did come in 1911, we may wonder what he might have been impressed with, considering that the first assembly line didn’t start until two years later.
Some of these accounts also state that Sakichi Toyoda invented an automatic loom in 1902. According to other accounts, his work at that time was on narrow steam-powered looms, and his first successful automatic loom was the Type G in 1924, which included a shuttle-change system developed by his son Kiichiro, who later founded the Toyota car company with the proceeds from the sale of the Type G patent in the UK.
Did Henry Ford invent Lean? Many accounts claim he did. This is puzzling because the term Mass Production was coined specifically to describe the Ford system. If Ford invented Lean, then Lean Manufacturing and Mass Production are the same, and we are wasting our time explaining how they differ. If Henry Ford invented Lean, then Issac Newton came up with relativity.