TOYOTATIMES

How Toyota expressed monozukuri (manufacturing) truths to a traditional rainwear maker in Japan

FROM THE EDITOR 2020.08.17

INDEX

The “alliance of volunteers,” a group of seven companies seeking to provide help during the COVID-19 crisis, work together to make a total of 50,000 medical protective gowns daily. Funahashi, a raincoat manufacturer, leads the project. For its contribution, Toyota provided support to the production sites, in the form of sharing its knowledge of the Toyota Production System. While at first daily production was 500 gowns, the companies worked totogether and utilized the Toyota Production System to increase production. Now, Funahashi makes as many as 6,000 gowns per day.

To learn more about exactly how the Toyota Production System impacted the production of gowns, including the efficiency and resulting numbers of production, Editor-in-Chief Kagawa interviewed four different team members on-site. He wanted to know what the employees thought of the Toyota Production System at first and later in the project, as well as what types of things they may have learned along the way.

Akihiko Funahashi President, Funahashi Co., Ltd (Making raincoats)

Takashi Mori Plant General Manager, Funahashi Co., Ltd

Hiroshi Suzuki Best Skill Promotion Dept., Global Production Center, Toyota Motor Corp.

Kazuhiko Furui Maintenance Management Dept., Global Production Center, Toyota Motor Corp.

Mass-production is not as easy as it sounds

Kagawa:
Going around today, I was really surprised to see so much kaizen. They were in no way monumental—they could be viewed as small changes—but the results were huge. For me too this was a big surprise. What has surprised you, or how have you felt, meeting the alliance of volunteer companies and then Toyota for this project?

Funahashi:
First, the position of alliance of volunteer companies is not the traditional contractor/subcontractor relationship based on commissioning work and have it performed; instead, this was a case of mobilizing the strengths of the member based on their area of expertise. Funahashi has strengths in welding, whereas another company has strengths in folding. We learn from each other by mobilizing these strengths. We also visited another company to learn how they fold the gowns.

I think we’ve been able to output 100 times more gowns than we started with by taking an approach that emphasizes learning from each other and mutually doing kaizen activities.

Thanks to Toyota’s involvement, we’ve been able to create this network. I had no idea that it was this difficult to give guidance to others and help in overall production management and mass-production. Toyota has taught us about all of these things, and I think that has led us to produce tens of thousands of gowns as well.

Kagawa:
I think you must have been quite startled to hear that people from Toyota were coming here.

Funahashi:
I was, indeed.

Kagawa:
When they actually came to visit you, how did it go?

Funahashi:
I had two main thoughts. First, I thought maybe they’d send one or two people at the most, but suddenly eight of their veteran team members showed up. That was a surprise!

Kagawa:
(laughs)

Funahashi:
Then, they told us that they would start working start from the following day – they said twenty or thirty people would come where we had thought maybe it would just be these eight members.

Kagawa:
That many?

Funahashi:
It was surprising that they would make this level of effort to help us. What amazed me about Toyota was their unique way of mentoring us. They actually took off their uniforms and joined the work with us, doing the cutting, welding, and the folding. It didn’t matter that they might have been a section manager or a general manager at Toyota, they worked intently from morning until night wherever they were needed. I was very impressed by their working attitude.

Kagawa:
I’d like to ask this to Mr. Mori. Being able to see the increasing production capability with my own eyes, I can only imagine that the employees have not experienced this kind of joy. The ability to do this has come from Toyota. I think you have witnessed their growth in many ways, including their motivation, their inner feelings, and also their human resources development.

Mori:
As Director Funahashi just said, we hadn’t mass-produced our products before. First we made 500 gowns, and the number of gowns reached 1,000 and then 2,000. We would have probably been satisfied by even just reaching 2,000. At that time, when Mr. Takahashi mentioned that he thought we could achieve 5,000 gowns, to be honest, I wondered how he, an outsider, could say such a thing.

Kagawa:
(laughs)

Mori:
Around the beginning of June, we made 3,000 gowns. When we hit 3,000, I really thought that was our limit, but now we are able to produce 6,000 gowns.

Kagawa:
That’s amazing.

Mori:
The driving forces behind the increase are that the employees seem to have a desire to outdo the record from the day before and that they are still staying motivated. I really admire them for feeling joy in their own growth day by day and it is humbling to watch them grow.

Kagawa:
Doing better than yesterday is truly admirable...

Mori:
It is. Almost every day they can be heard saying, “We won’t be able to top today. This is our limit.” But the next day, they achieve the target again. I remind them constantly to not set limits on themselves, but the truth is that I want to thank them all for achieving what they already have.

Kagawa:
That’s wonderful. It is interesting that Toyota is doing things like this at companies in addition to its own. From my perspective, a lot has to be attributed to the two of you as well as to Mr. Takahashi, who went to a completely unrelated company to help mentor the establishment the Toyota Production System there. These actions seem to have produced results that have led to today.

Suzuki:
Kaizen is an infinite process. For example, even if you get to 1,000 gowns, it’s not the end. Then you want to get to 1,001 and 1,002, and you just keep repeating this. It’s about resourcefulness, and resourcefulness doesn’t require any money. What could we do to make this easier? It’s about a series of little things. We haven’t done anything major here. It’s just small things like putting the scissors in the right place, as I just showed you, and doing things as a routine or process.

A production analysis board is really a human resource training tool

Suzuki:
And then it’s also about motivation. We just mentioned what’s behind you there, the production analysis board

Kagawa:
Is that what this is, the production analysis board?

Suzuki:
The first three weeks we spent going around to the seven companies. They gradually became able to do the production. We made that sheet and went around to the seven companies. What we want to find out is how many gowns we can get done per hour for each separate process. When talking about spreading, cutting, welding and folding, for example, you normally do 150 gowns in this one hour, but now you do 130 gowns. There are 20 gowns somewhere. So something stopped. I want them to write down what stopped, to make sure to identify the abnormality.

Kagawa:
You want them to say why something stopped?

Suzuki:
Yes. Before you chase the numbers, you need to make clear what stopped it, and then bring kaizen to it. For example, with the material I was just talking about, we changed the rolls. At first it took 15 minutes. Then at one point it took 10 minutes. What was the difference?

Then you implement kaizen and it’s down to seven minutes. You show them this and how they can keep reducing the time if they continue doing kaizen. You need to make clear what stopped it, and then bring kaizen to it. We keep the cycle. It’s not your best of today.

Let’s say a process outputs 150 pieces for three months. In that case, the target is always 150 pieces. Today, you do kaizen and get 151. The target from tomorrow is 151. You’re always moving the target forward. That gets motivation to go up as well. It’s really all about kaizen.

The numbers won’t go up with motivation alone. You combine motivation with kaizen, and first have them show you the abnormalities. Then you do kaizen there. After that, you aim for the best, to get the best—we call it best kaizen (00:06:21)—and as you just heard, they went from 500 to 50,000 gowns.

You find production analysis boards everywhere at Toyota production sites. It was called the Performance Record Board when we started at Toyota, and it only chased the numbers. When you only chase after the numbers, you get inferior products and defects. So that’s not the right way to do it. When an abnormality arises, you should stop the output, write down what the problem is, and then we’ll do kaizen for that problem.

This production analysis board is, in fact, also a human resource tool. You can train people using it. production analysis board are an integral part of our production sites. I’ve been taught about this from my mentors ever since I started working at Toyota, and have always worked to keep kaizen perpetually going.

Kagawa:
But you must have some employees who can’t do it, or who don’t like to do it.

Suzuki:
That’s one kind of success story, isn’t it? ‘If that’s what you say, then let’s have everyone do kaizen on that opinion,’ then you have your results, I think. Whenever someone gives their opinion, when we get feedback, we should respond. Just listening and then saying ‘Okay, finished’ is not enough. We must elicit their opinions, and then, after that, give our answer. This is the cycle we keep going.

Kagawa:
So you’re saying that this has produced some results at Toyota to date, and that’s why it’s useful as a manual?

Suzuki:
To be clear, this is my life.

Kagawa:
This is your life? (laughs) The production analysis board?

Suzuki:
Yes. I’ve gone all around Japan and the world with this.

Kagawa:
I see. As long as you have it, you can do anything?

Suzuki:
That and the ability to do kaizen.

Production equipment shouldn’t be the reason a line stops!

Kagawa:
The ability to do kaizen. On the other hand, you’re developing people along with doing shop floor kaizen and maintenance, like we just saw the first-generation machine, I mean the old production equipment, and you said to fix it, some of the newer team members were surprised. Where does that resolve come from, the resolve to absolutely not take it back to its manufacturer even, but to take it and see if you can fix it yourselves?

Furui:
In reality, for this project we had to work quickly, and it was thought that it would be quicker to do it ourselves rather than trying to dig around to figure things out, such as asking around about the manufacturer, because we had no drawings or anything for this.

Kagawa:
That makes sense. I guess the companies had never mass-produced goods at this level before. As a professional mass-production company, maybe you recognized the difficulties associated with mass-production?

Furui:
Yes, I did. Toyota manufactures 10 million cars worldwide, although this year it will be a little bit less. We’ve automated almost everything in the manufacturing process. In my area of responsibility, which is on the body of the car, such as welding the vehicle body, there are around 3,000 industrial robots in the process, and we have to take care of those. Stopping production because something goes wrong with the equipment is not something you want to do. So our job in maintenance is to figure out what to do so that we can achieve our planned output.

If you increase the number of people and equipment in a gradual manner, it would be possible to make 50,000 gowns by simply increasing your costs. However, our approach is to lower the cost as much as we can while also improving productivity, which means as a principle we need to keep the equipment from stopping. We call this “operational availability,” or the operating rate of working equipment.

Kagawa:
I think it probably takes a tremendous amount of willpower to keep the equipment operating without stopping.

Furui:
Well, equipment breaks down. It breaks down if no maintenance work is done.

Kagawa:
Yes, machines are like that.

Furui:
So I feel happy when people on the shop floor tell me that the maintenance crews have worked hard to avoid stopping the line, allowing them to met the production plan all day that day. This has kept us motivated since we were new at the job.

Kagawa:
I’ve had the opportunity to meet many Toyota employees who have worked their way up to this position, and what I can say about all of them is that they have this rock-solid spirit of never giving up and getting work done.

But when you’re new—and this goes for me too—I think it was different. Do both of you feel that this was something that has been taught to you and just somehow been handed down from the shop-floor veterans, the so-called oyaji (mentors)?

Furui:
Yes, I think so.

Suzuki:
Yes, exactly. It’s not a matter of just studying. We were given opportunities to do kaizen ourselves, and when we failed, the oyaji were there to help us out. They gave us their wisdom, but allowing kaizen is the cycle I think we need to keep repeating. Only sticking to the status quo is not the way things should be.

“It was like managers and coaches from a major league baseball team suddenly showed up”

Funahashi:
Looking back at the past, one might compare our company to a high school baseball club, where all the members are friends, everyone gets along with each other and wants to have fun together. After COVID-19, it’s like as it the team is playing at Koshien (the National High School Baseball Championship).

Kagawa:
Like some big-time professionals joined your club.

Funahashi:
It was like big-time professionals, managers, and coaches from a major league baseball team suddenly showed up and told us that we were aiming to win the championship at Koshien. But they have to teach us and show us how and what to aim for to qualify for the championship at Koshien. Sometimes the Toyota coaches could be strict; other times, they offered praise or were even gentle, taking a different approach tailored to the needs of the person. I can say I strongly felt that this was what teaching was all about.

There were times when I cried

Mori:
I’d like to introduce you to our up and coming leaders.

Kagawa:
How have things changed since the alliance of volunteer companies got together?

Nakagawa:
With Toyota joining us, as a worker, I am learning the system that teaches us how to mass-produce goods. It has become clear that picking up and putting together lots of little things leads to something big.

Onishi:
In the case of machine maintenance, we typically would call the manufacturer right away when something happens. Now, we’ve learned a lot about fixing things by ourselves and how to keep the equipment maintained properly to avoid breakdowns.

Mori:
Mr.Tatematsu here is a new employee who just joined this past April.

Kagawa:
What a tough time to join!

Everyone:
(laughs)

Tatematsu:
We had some defects at one point, which forced us to inspect all 4,000 gowns. There were times when I cried.
*Mr. Tatematsu is the person in charge of final product quality checks. In the welding process there had been a defect that was passed on, which, in turn, caused the workers to re-inspect all of the products. He said, choking back tears as he felt the weight of that responsibility that he had “caused undue burden on his fellow workers”

Kagawa:
Crying? That sounds like it was challenging.

Tatematsu:
Yes.

Kagawa:
Tough enough for tears – but crying is okay, especially when you are new.

Tatematsu:
That’s true.

Kagawa:
It provides learning for your future.

Tatematsu:
Yes.

Kagawa:
Have any of you experienced something you’d call “eye-opening” in all of this?

Kawano:
I would say continuous kaizen really surprised me. We are always aiming higher so we can always do better. When I thought we’d reached 70% or 80% of the target, they’d say that it was just the starting line. Then, we would exceed the level and, I must say, the speed has been fast. I learned a lot about the importance of setting the conditions we can work on right away, and it was fun to take those learnings and share them with the others to move things up a level every day.

It all started from a one-page press release

Otani:
I was the one that wrote the press release for the newspaper that ended up bringing the Toyota members here. I had no idea how huge the scale of this project would become. At the time, we were really in a pickle.

Kagawa:
Still, the newspaper article was a hot topic, and it seemed to me that there were some people in dire need of support.

Otani:
Look, when I was writing that press release, there were people in positions that needed gowns who were making holes even in garbage bags and using them. We believed our technology could contribute to those in need. I wrote this hoping that others might join the cause.

Kagawa:
How do you see your public relations situation now?

Otani:
In the past, we have written press releases to introduce a new product or something new we are doing, hoping to get any news coverage. This time, however, the story has drawn media attention and been widespread, and we have been receiving more phone calls requesting interviews. As a PR staff member, I couldn’t ask for anything better.

Kagawa:
Considering this all started out from an article in just one section in the newspaper, I think you did a very good job.

Funahashi:
Indeed, it’s only been about three years since they all joined the company as new employees, but they have a sense of ownership about their work and are tackling this project now head on. As president, watching the members directly address the issues they encounter day by day, and watching them grow day by day, makes me really happy.

Even a raincoat company can benefit and help people

Funahashi:
My son is studying science in Tokyo now. He used to say it doesn’t matter if there’s a raincoat maker in this world or not. He’s studying energy now because he wants to do something to make the world better...

Kagawa:
Do you think he would be the fourth president?

Funahashi:
Well, actually, he’s just in his fourth year at university. Now, we started making these protective gowns. Then, Toyota Times ran an article about what we are doing. It turns out that this matches what he wants to do, something to benefit the world and benefit people, which he can rightly do now at a raincoat company!

Kagawa:
That’s right.

Funahashi:
When covered in the Toyota Times article, he said that he could feel how having Funahashi’s existing know-how and ideas and Toyota’s kaizen brought together created an exciting production site, and how inspiring it was. So just last month, he told me that he wanted to succeed me as the fourth president and keep Funahashi running.

Kagawa:
That’s wonderful!

Funahashi:
I was really happy to hear that. It made me very happy.

Kagawa:
Toyota has connected the generations of this family! I’m sure his grandfather is crying with joy over this!

Funahashi:
Yes, I think he is crying tears of joy.

Kagawa:
I’m sure!

Funahashi:
Actually my mother, who is healthy, did cry tears of joy.

Kagawa:
Absolutely, I’m sure she did. Wonderful. Isn’t this another example of developing people, and developing the family? Ultimately, if he’s studying energy—like what Toyota is doing for the SDGs—he may gain understanding of the flow of energy, and how you, a raincoat maker, can commit to helping solve future problems. There are environmental problems you can help tackle, such as how to dispose of polyethylene eventually. Including things like this, there is no doubt that your son would be able to make a new rain wear company suitable for the 21st century.

Funahashi:
Nothing would make me prouder than if my son would do something like that.

Kagawa:
But, I think there are things one starts to realize after going and being in the world outside.

Funahashi:
That’s true.

Kagawa:
This is a wonderful story. Just wonderful. You’re doing great things!

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