TOYOTATIMES

What the “alliance of volunteers” learned from the Toyota Production System

FROM THE EDITOR 2020.08.12

INDEX

Funahashi received a request to make 200,000 medical protective gowns per month by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). Knowing that it would not be able to fulfill such a large request on its own, the company placed a “help wanted” ad in the newspaper. Six companies from Japan’s Tokai area responded to the ad as they shared a strong desire to help healthcare facilities with their needs to fight COVID-19.
The six companies, plus Funahashi, created a seven-company strong “alliance of volunteers.” Together, they set off to try and make as many protective gowns for those on the frontlines in healthcare as possible, hoping to meet the request from METI.

To understand why these volunteers offered their support, what efforts they needed to make to set up the production lines and processes at each company, and the role the Toyota Production System played in this project, Editor-in-Chief Kagawa visited the production sites to meet and interview the members from the seven companies, including three Toyota employees who supported the production by providing Toyota’s know-how.

Akihiko Funahashi President, Funahashi Co., Ltd (Making raincoats)
Shinya Hasegawa Executive General Manager, SWIM Business unit Supervisory Div., TOYO KNIT Co., Ltd. (Making sports apparel)
Yatsuma Ohori Senior Managing Director, SUIKOU Co. Ltd. (Sewing womenswear)
Tetsuya Ochiai President, HOUWA CHEMICAL.Co.,LTD (Sewing automotive seat covers)
Syouji Nakamura President, Hekikai-Giken Co., Ltd. (Sewing automotive seats)
Nobuki Sugiura President, Futaba-Sansho Co. Ltd. (Making seats for transportation vehicles and events)
Yasuro Okagawa President, Okagawa-Hosei Co. Ltd. (Making womenswear)

Hiroshi Suzuki Best Skill Promotion Dept., Global Production Center, Toyota Motor Corp.
Kazuhiko Furui Maintenance Management Dept., Global Production Center, Toyota Motor Corp.
Tomokazu Takahashi Operations Management Development Div., Toyota Motor Corp.

Kagawa:
President Funahashi, thank you for your time today.

Funahashi:
Yes, and thank you.

The seven companies gathered with the desire to help others

Funahashi:
I was approached by the government with a request to make 10,000 gowns a day. We were asked to deliver 200,000 gowns in May, and we were very much at our wits’ end. So we ran an advertisement in the newspaper, and these people offered to help after seeing the ad.
Each company (in the alliance) has its area of expertise. I may have been the one who initiated this project, but everyone has brought their abilities together. Now, as partner members, we are able to make 50,000 gowns a day.

Kagawa:
Yes, thank you.

Hasegawa:
We’re a manufacturing company and our main products are sports apparel.

Ohori:
Our business is in sewing womenswear, and we have cutting technology as well as employees who are skilled at using their hands, so we can utilize our welding and folding techniques as we work hard every day.

Ochiai:
Our company sews automotive seat covers. Our expertise is especially in cutting and sewing. 

Kagawa:
Originally, being in the business of sewing automotive seat covers, have you had a business relationship with Toyota?

Ochiai:
Yes. Not a direct relationship, but we support the business in making prototypes.

Kagawa:
I see.

Nakamura:
We sew seats for automobiles.

Kagawa:
Seats used in automobiles?

Nakamura:
Yes.

Kagawa:
So, you’re in the same industry (as Toyota)?

Nakamura:
Yes, that is correct. We manufacture seats for Toyota vehicles, too.

Kagawa:
Oh, I see. For me, it seems like quite a leap for a company manufacturing automotive seats to produce medical protective gowns, although I can more easily understand how an apparel company might do that. Did you have any concerns about that?

Nakamura:
I wouldn’t say we didn’t have any concerns.

Kagawa:
Of course you would have some.

Nakamura:
But, we thought that if we tried, we could do it. Most importantly, the feeling was that we would like to help to support the production site in some way.

Sugiura:
Our company primarily produces sheets by special order for use in things like transportation and for events.

Kagawa:
When you say sheets for transportation, what kind of sheets are you talking about?

Sugiura:
These are sheets that cover things like truck beds.

Kagawa:
So, maybe they are also used in things like airplanes and trains?

Sugiura:
Yes. Most of our products are made-to-order products that are different for every job.

Okagawa:
We mainly make womenswear and women’s skirts. Our products are often seen for sale in department stores.
Usually we’re engaged in small-lot, multi-product production, and normally we process fabric for women’s apparel. When I saw the article from Funahashi, although I wasn’t sure if we can do the same work with vinyl/plastic, I thought we could still contribute since we make various kind of things. So I took it upon myself to contact them. When I visited the production site, the members were working much harder than I expected and things seemed to be on track.

Things learned from Toyota Production System

Kagawa:
Thank you. I think all of you share the fact that as this was the first time making protective gowns for all of you, there must have been extra time, labor cost, and expenses needed.
Furthermore, you had to split the time which you normally spend on making your company’s regular products. Didn’t you have any concerns about that?

Okagawa:
Especially in our case, many of our products are sold in department stores, but starting in April, the same month the ad ran in the paper, department stores were closed down.

Kagawa:
Yes, that’s true.

Okagawa:
At the same time, we also stopped getting orders from apparel manufacturers, leaving us in a difficult spot trying to keep employment up as well. This was a way to help us with that and be able to contribute as well, so we decided to raise our hand to join.

Kagawa:
How about you, Mr. Nakamura? Were you in a similar situation with automotive seats?

Nakamura:
Yes, we were. We had some workers from temporary agencies, and now we are mostly operating this work with trainees.

Kagawa:
I was given a tour of the protective gown production and processing site at Funahashi, and witnessed how dramatically things changed after Toyota became involved. Did you have any changes by introducing the Toyota Production System?

Okagawa:
Well, typically our work patterns changed every day or once every two days anyway. Now, however, we’re just making one kind of protective gown for an extended period of time. Under this type of production, Toyota has repeatedly gone on about the “importance of one second” in the process.

Suzuki:
He’s right about Toyota’s emphasis on that!

Okagawa:
Since our work pattern used to vary daily, we hadn’t fully pursued (the importance or work efficiency of one second), but now that we’ve switched to making the same thing every day, it is really possible to see how much “one second” can make a difference.

Kagawa:
That’s true. You can’t measure as easily if you’re always changing things or patterns.

Okagawa:
Yes, that’s it. I think that has been the greatest benefit or learning for us.

Kagawa:
Doesn’t Toyota also ask about defects, what the root cause was (of the defect), and then what you’re going to do to improve it?

Sugiura:
That’s right, yes.

Everyone:
(laughs)

Sugiura:
No offense. Using the production analysis board has allowed us to understand a lot of things from various departments. Because of that we’ve changed our processes from what we did before, such as having one person work alone to create a process from start to finish, to now doing things as a team.

Nakamura:
Once we achieve or exceed a target, Toyota would tell us that it the higher number becomes the new target, so we’re always moving higher and higher, and our productivity has gone up by leaps and bounds.
Toyota gave us a lot of guidance about how ‘monozukuri (manufacturing) is really about developing people,’ and this was another chance for us to learn that developing people is to do things through teamwork.

Ochiai:
In some ways we were surprised by their incredible sense of speed and efficiency.
It’s about how they use their time and how they place value on getting the team members involved and working right there together with workers. So we learned a lot from them about how to use time, and how to do things efficiently.

Kagawa:
I see

Ohori:
We learned from Toyota about what efforts were needed to quickly eliminate the loss in each process by deeply checking the defects and where the defects happened so that kaizen could be implemented.

Motivated by friendly competition in the “alliance of volunteers”

Kagawa:
May I ask about the chemistry you found when all seven of the companies gathered, or, maybe the strengths discovered through the mixture of your companies?

Okagawa:
Perhaps the greatest discovery I made was that we don’t have a lot of opportunities to engage with other companies outside our industry.

Kagawa:
Very true, I think.

Okagawa:
Also, we were able to see other companies’ factories. In doing that, we could see the different things they’re able to do. Normally we don’t get to see inside other companies, and learning about the good things other companies are doing has been a very valuable experience.

Hasegawa:
I learned about Toyota’s yokoten (process of sharing knowhow), and Funahashi took the lead in this. When we got stuck implementing some kaizen, they would send us a video right away, which allowed us to implement the next kaizen.

Nakamura:
They were good at fanning our competitive instinct.

Everyone:
(laughs)

Nakamura:
So we got caught up in their enthusiasm. We felt that no matter what, we could not fail for the others. We had all sorts of challenges just to get to 3,000 gowns, but the result is that now we are able to do 7,000 gowns without a problem. I think this is a testament to Toyota and its drive to raise productivity. They worked hard to help lift us up, and feel a lot can be attributed to their help.

Kagawa:
That truly is the spirit of the Toyota Production System.

Nakamura:
It certainly is, yes.

Okagawa:
Normally, we would have our own company’s team members compete with each other, and one of our own employees would put out the best numbers. Now that there seven companies doing it together, we often find that someone at another company does even better. It’s very much like how we don’t listen to our parents, but we’re more likely to listen to other people (even when they say the same thing).
When I say that “they did better.” Even if they don’t usually listen to us, they say, “Oh, so that’s the case.” I would call that a really good outcome.

Draw out strengths; Extra support where needed

Kagawa:
If Toyota hadn’t gotten involved, do you think this would have still happened?

Nakamura:
No, I’m not sure that it would have.

Kagawa:
So that meddlesome production analysis board has created a state of constant competition, now even among peers.

Everyone:
(laughs)

Suzuki:
Well, it starts with, “Put the scissors here.”

Kagawa:
As simple as that, is it?

Suzuki:
“Put the scissors here” is something that was the same for all the companies. We can’t have people doing things in different ways. We need to set standards.

Kagawa:
So it is also about setting standards then?

Suzuki:
Yes. It was the same with everyone, asking them to put those here.
There’s bound to be strengths and weaknesses in any way it’s done. We draw out the strengths as much as we can, and give extra support where there are weaknesses. So we go visit once or twice a week and suggest doing something more a certain way, but we don’t tell them they have to absolutely do it this way. We stay close by and suggest doing it one way, and we ask a lot of people for their opinions. They talk about what’s causing them problems. And if there are problems, we ask them if there is any way we can help. It is really just repeating that.
 In a way, I think we’ve been given a really great opportunity. We’ve had the chance to go to places in a completely different industry and have been tested on whether or not we could truly exercise our talents. These work clothes have this ‘TOYOTA’ name tag on them, but could we really apply these same principles even without that?
 Our team—there were really eight of us that came, but every single one put themselves right into the processes, saying, “Here it is a little weak in this area, but stronger in this area, so let’s do it like this.” But it was little by little, step by step. You can’t do everything at once, and we take stock of that.
 At the same time, there’s a lot that is the same for everyone. In the end, we reminded them, “Please fill out the production analysis board. Please make sure to write down any abnormalities. How many minutes did the process stop? What about your best time?” This creates some competitiveness.
 Then it’s about motivation. Lifting people’s mood. After all, we have to develop the people. If you just make processes, you won’t raise productivity. You simply have to create the processes while making sure to develop people, too.
 I’ve said it before, but I would tell them “Don’t spend time, don’t spend money, put the scissors here,” and “Cut it from here.” It’s really about standards, standards, standards. We set them.

“We can absolutely do it”

Funahashi:
At the time, when we could still produce only 3,000 or 5,000 gowns, Toyota talked to the government and said we would produce 400,000 gowns a month. Afterward, when the government contacted me and asked, “we were just told this by Toyota, but can you really make it?” My hands were shaking at the time. When they said, “If you sign a contract, you absolutely have to deliver on it,” well, I believed Toyota and said, “We can absolutely do it.” And we went on to not only be able to produce 400,000 gowns a month, but to be able to do one million a month. Many miraculous things happened, and we were able to make it a reality.

Kagawa:
That’s amazing.

Funahashi:
Like Mr. Hasegawa just said, we could launch these protective gowns globally. Originally, we had planned it to only serve as a short-term fix until around September, but with Toyota’s involvement, we’ve raised our productivity and have also brought the cost reduction.
And the cost has continued to be reduced even more, to where it’s comparable to overseas products. So then maybe we seek to offer it overseas. If we use Japan’s moisture permeable technology and breathable materials, people will be able to conduct medical exams more safely and comfortably even in countries with hot and humid climates. Our dreams are getting bigger and bigger like this.

The significance of repairing and using 40-year-old equipment

Furui:
For this project, I supported on the equipment side of things. There was equipment at Funahashi that was around 40 to 50 years old. When we took the equipment around to the other companies,no one said, “We can’t use this,” or “This equipment is too old to use.”

Kagawa:
I hear you. Yes.

Furui:
At Toyota production sites today, I feel a sense of danger that maybe we’re getting to the point where people will say, “We’re not still using old equipment like this, are we?” I would say that I think there is still use for it.
There’s a big concept in the Toyota Production System of eliminating Mura (unevenness or irregularity), Muri (overburden) and Muda (waste), or of purging these types of things. They would say, “If it can still be used, we can fix it and use it. It would be a waste (not to).” That mindset was something everyone had in this project. For us working day to day in maintenance at Toyota production sites as well, we have all the tools and a great environment to do the maintenance work. But when we went out to the alliance companies, we started by trying to find their electric panels, often located far way in some corner, or we would find that we had to pull some cable, and it made me realize how good we have it where we are. The people who came from maintenance to help out with this project said that it looks like everyone here is working in more challenging conditions.
For this project we brought machines called welders, sealers and hot stamps into the production sites of each company. As they use these machines, they’re bound to break down. A number of machines at several companies did break down, and we would go and repair them. It would take two or three hours to get there from Toyota, and during that time, production is stopped. So next what we did is to make inspection manuals that everyone could follow to try and teach everyone a little about the equipment to help prevent it from breaking down. Moving forward, I think it would be good if we can get things to a place where everyone can manually work on the equipment a little more.

Skills come before techniques

Takahashi:
We believe that skills and techniques are both very important. There are dreams of what the next product or area will be, and we think that there are no products that aren’t benefitting society in some way or without a greater purpose. What’s important is that we work toward those dreams and products as management.
As such, it may look like we’ve got our hands in a lot of places at once, but looking at it from the perspective of skills and techniques, we can teach this much…I am of the belief that what we’re actually doing is, at the least, putting precedence on skills.

Kagawa:
I see your point.

Takahashi:
In short, if the skills don’t come first, then you don’t understand the basic theory and principles, or you just depend on others to do everything. That is to say that one should always put people at the center of the work that is being done. Especially production sites in manufacturing have to be straightforward and honest, so in that sense, we always think that skills come before techniques.

Kagawa:
I understand your thinking.

Takahashi:
So that’s why today we had two deputy managers in skills areas who took their team members and worked together with the others. It starts with people using their hands and being able to do the techniques themselves. Today you worked on flipping, and that’s included in what we mean as part of going forward. If people don’t do that, Japanese manufacturing will not remain competitive.

Kagawa:
The elite group, they’re like the Avengers, what standards were used to select them?

Takahashi:
To be clear, it was based on our preference.

Kagawa:
Your preference?

Takahashi:
Well, our preferences and our way of selecting personnel.

Kagawa:
The way of selecting people.

Takahashi:
In this case, I simply chose the people who I knew he would help get the job done.

Kagawa:
Maybe you picked eight people you thought would stick to the numbers.

Takahashi:
Well, they had strengths suited to production and an ability to work closely with people.
What we said to the eight people in the beginning is that this is about social contribution, not about showing or pushing the Toyota brand.
We told them that, in the end, after they come back and a number of years go by, they should be satisfied if people were happy that Toyota had come and helped out. We chose people that we knew understood this.

Kagawa:
That’s wonderful.

Takahashi:
That’s the nature of social contribution activities. We don’t stray from that at all, but work with that mindset.

Kagawa:
I think at least one-third of them are totally on board with you right now.

Everyone:
(laughs)

Kagawa:
Do you have anything to share?

Funahashi:
Well, being at the age I am and as president, it’s not often that I have the experience of receiving such criticism.

Kagawa:
That’s a good way to put it. You are a president after all.

Funahashi:
In this position, no one really criticizes me.

Kagawa:
You’re all at the top, where no one criticizes you. But in this case, you really were hammered.

Funahashi:
Hammered.

Kagawa:
They ripped you to shreds.
However, to be sure, this was really something.
But at least Toyota does it in such a nice tone of voice. It’s like how can they sound so nice and be criticizing you? They’re really good at it. That must be one of Toyota’s strengths.

RECOMMEND

Hydrogen-Powered Engine: “A Catalyst that Unleashed Our Dreams” - Interview with Automotive Analyst Shinya Yamamoto

Automotive analyst Shinya Yamamoto, who was visiting the venue to cover the race, graciously agreed to an impromptu interview with Toyota Times.

2021.07.07 More

Akio Toyoda on Japanese Political Leadership

At a press conference held before a motorsport race on September 18, Akio Toyoda in his driving suit shared his views on the political leadership of Japan.

2021.09.22 More

#6 Keishi Miyachi, a master of painting [Masters who support car making in Japan]

Toyota Times uncovers the essence and core strength of the traditional Japanese monozukuri (making things), which is woven from the past into the future. The sixth interviewee is a master of painting.

2021.09.08 More