The Toyota Production System (TPS) organizes manufacturing and logistics for manufacturing, which includes interaction with suppliers and customers. A forgotten pillar of TPS and Lean manufacturing is the concept of Jidoka. This principle is one of the most important tenets, which will help achieve true excellence. It is about quality at the source or built-in quality. There is no organization that can succeed without the highest quality of service or product.
Jidoka began as a concept by Sakichi Toyoda as a simple device which stopped a shuttle on an automatic loom if the thread broke. This prevented the machine from creating a defective product, along with alerting the operator to a problem. This simple but effective concept of autonomation (or automation with a human touch) enabled an operator to operate multiple machines instead of one operator for every machine. The sale of the patent for this innovation was sold to a UK textile mill, which subsequently funded the new family business called Toyota. The principle of Jidoka is not just confined to the automation process. One of the most crucial aspects of Jidoka is building quality into a process rather than inspecting at the end. This concept is applied in TPS and Lean manufacturing, which is still a most effective tool used to ensure defects do not reach the customer.
The key to success is the human touch. Every person in the TPS or a Lean manufacturing organization has the explicit authority to stop a process when and if a defect is detected. This is a firm requirement. However, in some western organizations, fear of stopping the line for minor issues adversely affects productivity. This fear is exactly what undermines the pillar of Jidoka. Painful at first, eventually errors are removed from the system, the number of stops reduced and productivity begins to improve.
Truly effective manufacturing organizations make this a way of life in an organization. When applied properly, this nearly lost pillar of quality is crucial to any Lean manufacturing organization.