Taiichi Ohno (1912-1990) was a prominent Japanese businessman. He is most famous for being the creator of the revolutionary Toyota Production System, which was later called Lean Manufacturing in the United States. He is widely regarded as one of the symbols of the manufacturing resurgence in Japan after the devastation that country suffered during World War II.
Rising up the ranks at Toyota
Ohno was born in eastern China, in the city of Dalian. Between the world wars, he started working for Toyota Automatic Loom Works. This was the Toyoda family's first business. They later sold it to a British company called Platt Brothers and used the proceeds to enter the automobile manufacturing industry. As World War II was coming to a close, Ohno became a production engineer at the Toyota automobile company. At this point in time, Toyota's level of production was far behind that of the U.S. auto industry. Toyota's goal was to catch up with their U.S. counterparts within three years.
The origin of TPS
Ohno's theory was that wastefulness and inefficiency were the reasons why Toyota's production was lagging so far behind Detroit. Therefore, he made it his personal mission to eliminate inefficiency and waste in the area of production that was his responsibility. These concepts helped to form the core of what later became known as the Toyota Production System (TPS) when it was fully developed by Ohno and several others during the 30 years after World War II. There are a few parts of this system that are frequently used in the United States: for example, kanban (the tags that are used in a just-in-time stock control system), jidoka (the injection of quality) and muda (waste elimination).
Location is key
The success that was experienced by the TPS was aided by the location of Toyota's main factory. It was situated in Toyoda City where there are many manufacturers and suppliers for the auto industry. Because Toyota had all of their suppliers located close to them, Toyota had the luxury of selecting parts exactly when they needed them.
Ohno became famous once stories of his methods were translated into English. It wasn't long before many of the largest financial publications in the West started to write stories about him. Thus, the legends of Taiichi Ohno and Lean Manufacturing were born. There is no question that the United States auto industry has benefitted greatly by borrowing many pages out of the Taiichi Ohno Lean Manufacturing playbook. The U.S. continues to reap the rewards to this day.
For more information on Ohno and Lean Manufacturing, you can check out these links:
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