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Art Smalley

Art Smalley: Jidoka – Part 1

By Art Smalley, - Last updated: Saturday, August 7, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

I think there are some real interesting components to this topic to discuss so I will probably break my response up into several parts for simplicity. For some personal perspective on this topic after returning back to the United States from Japan in the mid 1990’s I was somewhat surprised to learn of all the emerging interest in the Toyota Production System. Books were being published on the topic and Harvard Business Review articles followed as well. Even perhaps more strange to me personally however was the fixation I noticed that the western world had on the Just-in-Time pillar of Toyota’s system versus the apparent lack of interest in the Jidoka pillar of the system. Fifteen years later not much has changed in terms of emphasis.

As one example of what I mean trying Googling “just in time” and see what you generate. My search highlighted 1.88 billion responses on the internet.

Google “Jidoka” however and I got a measly 38,300 hits or a difference of almost 50,000 to 1.

This is a strange result for me having worked in Toyota’s model engine plant for both Just-in-Time and Jidoka. If you asked most people I worked with which concept is more difficult and more important the majority would say Jidoka.  My boss Tom Harada would go so far as to say, “Just-in-Time is just an extension of the U.S. supermarket concept and the German aerospace concept of Takt Time. Jidoka however is one of our company strengths and something to be proud of. It is what makes us unique and successful”.

In a different but similar vein I often get to interact in the United States with small groups who are interested in Lean and I ask the groups a simple question, “Would you rather be handed a situation where all the process were up and running and quality was built in 100% of the time however the scheduling system was astray? Or would you rather take over a situation with a perfect JIT system designed out on the floor but the machines are down all the time and quality is a complete mess?” So far no one has ever opted for the latter case.

So despite this response pattern and Toyota’s belief that Jidoka is just as important as Just-in-Time why does so little emphasis get put on this topic? I think the that A) the concept unfortunately is still not very well understood or is glossed over by many parties, B) the concept is difficult to implement requiring some mechanical skill, knowledge of quality control, and some other technical areas, C) it ties into organizational structure and job expectations, and D) it relates to a broad inability to problem solve quickly and efficiently in most organizations I visit. I’ll address A in the remainder of this post, then address some examples at a recent client site in a follow up post. Time allowing I’ll touch upon C & D as well at a later date.

The Jidoka concept is not all that difficult to grasp *in theory* and the same basic explanations are regurgitated over and over by myself and others. Toyota puts the following explanation up and we all tend to draw from this base version or something similar. (Click here for Toyota explanation). Toyota also goes to great lengths in its company museums to point out the history of Jidoka and other topics as well. This is just one example of a picture I took several years ago. (Click for image).

With regards to the basic concept of Jidoka I will re-word the Toyota site referenced above slightly. However the gist of the concept remains the same. First an “abnormality” occurs then second the machine senses the abnormality and shuts down automatically. Third a signal is sent via an andon board or other mechanism indicating the problem. Fourth a team member or supervisor responds as needed and fixes the current abnormality and ideally isolates the root cause of the problem. And finally future work incorporates a countermeasure to address the root cause of the abnormality.

So why is this important and how do you go about doing it in machine intensive areas? This “go and see” attitude and ability to get to the root cause of problems is a fundamental part of Toyota’s success over the years. One of the biggest differences I see between Toyota and other manufacturing companies is this ability and discipline to both see problems and to continually probe in order to get to the root cause of the problem. Without this sort of mindset and skill level I think it is difficult for any aspect of Lean to succeed or really sustain over time. In a follow up post I’ll highlight some recent examples I came across of how Jidoka was attempted and my feedback points.

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