Assembly Blog

Remembering a Lean Giant

September 23, 2013

I was saddened the other day to learn about the passing of Eiji Toyoda. The former president and chairman of Toyota Motor Corp. was born in 1913 (the same year that Ford Motor Co. unveiled its moving assembly line).

Toyoda transformed a sleepy little automaker in Nagoya, Japan, into a global powerhouse. Along the way, he also championed Toyota’s famous lean manufacturing and quality control systems.

Back in 1950, Toyota produced just a few thousand automobiles a year. In sharp contrast, Ford was mass-producing more than twice that amount in a single day. So, Toyoda embarked on a three-month journey to America to visit several plants, including the vertically integrated Rouge complex.

Toyoda was impressed by what he saw, but he also found some faults along the way. “There is not a great difference [between Ford and Toyota] in terms of manufacturing technology and production methods,” he summarized. “In fact, with methods like just-in-time, we may be ahead. If we modernize our factories and invest in the newest equipment, we should be able to surpass Ford.”

After returning to Japan, Toyoda developed a five-year production plan. He also crafted an innovative motto called “good thinking, good products.”

During the 1950s and 1960s, Toyoda worked with Taiichi Ohno to fine tune the Toyota Production System. By the time its new Motomachi plant opened in the late 1950s, Toyota was well on its way to mastering key lean principles such as just-in-time delivery, flow production, error proofing and continuous improvement.

In November 1960, Toyoda issued an employee edict that raised the gauntlet on quality control. “Quality is something that is made during the process [of our work],” he explained. “I want you to help rationalize the control of quality by making products so well that testing will not be necessary.” Seven months later, Toyota implemented a company-wide quality program and embarked on its decades-long journey toward becoming the No. 1 automaker in the world.

Does anyone have any personal memories or recollections of Eiji Toyoda and his contributions? Does he deserve a place of honor alongside Gottlieb Daimler, Henry Ford and other auto industry pioneers?

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