This was one of many important messages from the International Conference entitled: ‘ Quality Evolution - Way to Sustainable Growth’ and held at a the Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo in September 2005.
Both Toyota and Honda separately announced that during the past two years they have both made it a corporate policy objective to achieve 100% membership of Quality Circles globally in the next two to three years. The more than 1000 conference participants from all parts of the world learned that already, both organisations have substantial Quality Circles programmes in all plants on all continents which must be a surprise for most given the high profile western managers are giving to both Six Sigma and to Lean Manufacture these days.
QC Circle Activities at the Toyota Motor Corporation
The paper presented by Mr Shousaka Masahide and Mr Shimizu Yasufumi said>>>
Toyota Motor Corporation introduced total quality control or TQC in 1961. Fours years later, the company was awarded the Deming Application Prize for their efforts. TMC began Quality Circles activities in 1964 in pursuit of the Deming Prize and has continued to sustain them for more than 40 years since then. In 1993 the company deployed its New QC Circle Activities. Global QC Circle activities were implemented in 2004. By the end of 2004 Toyota Motor Corporation, focusing on its skilled workplaces (Operations Group) boasted a domestic QC Circle participation of approximately 40,000 members in nearly 4,400 circles.
TQM’s primary aims at Toyota are improving the quality of work and enlivening the organisation and people that make up the company. Three core principles are employed towards these aims: putting the customer first, continuous kaizen (improvement), and 100% participation. QC Circles are considered an important TQM activity in addition to the other representative tools of TQM employed in efforts such as Hoshin Kanri (policy management ) and daily management. Toyota Motor Corporation carries out their QC activities with three aims in mind.
The first is to develop the abilities of individuals in the workforce and empower them to self-fulfilment.
The second to develop an attitude of mutual respect among members and create a motivating environment.
Third, to contribute to corporate development by fostering continuous improvement of the workplace.
Quality Circles and Lean Manufacturing at Honda
The Honda story begins in 1948 when they began by producing an auxiliary engine equipped bicycle. From those humble beginnings Honda has grown to become one of the worlds automotive giants rivalled only by Toyota in terms of global profitability. David Hutchins visited the plant as part of a group from IQC’05 to see if he could discover the secret of their success. A tall order it must be admitted but having already had experience of the management approaches of Ford, Toyota (many visits to plants in Japan and also the Derby Plant UK), Nissan in both Japan and the UK and with his roots in the Automotive Component Supply industry before working in consultancy, it was the differences in approach that might be interesting.
Of course, it would be dangerous to generalise from the experience of a visit lasting only an effective 3 hours but nevertheless, there were some interesting observations.
As with the presentation from Toyota at the convention, Honda stated that it also has a global policy for 100% coverage by Quality Circles in the coming years and is already well on the way towards achieving that target.
During our visit the two production lines were producing the luxury ‘Legend’ model on one track and the CR-V 4 wheel drive model on the other, but with less than 3 minutes change over time they could switch to the Odyssey, Step Wagon, Accord, Accord Wagon or the Inspire.
Interestingly there was no evidence of Jidoka which is so obvious at Toyota. We asked what happens if there is a stoppage at one of the production points and we were told that they do not stop the line. There are additional staff who will go to assist overcome the problem. The line produced a constant 1050 units per shift with a takt time of 49.5 seconds and a capability of 47 seconds. When asked about balance between customer demand and production volume, the answer was that they can then adjust the product mix not only within the plant but across plants. Generally whilst demand may vary from model to model on a short term basis, the overall demand does not fluctuate so much, so there is always an element of pull.
The body in white welding shop was particularly interesting partly because of its compactness and also the total robotisation of the assembly process. With virtually no space between operations and with 30 complex machines they can complete a total changeover in less than 3 minutes from one model to another.
The plant produces over 2 shifts and maintenance is carried out on the third.
The secret of Honda?
It was clear that whilst they were aware of what other producers were doing, they relied very much on their own creativity both in terms of product and also process innovation. Their approach to Lean Manufacture was clearly tailored to suit their specific requirements and whilst it was also clear that the principles of Kanban were evident in the balance of the work content of each operation it could not be visually detected specifically. Secondly, it was very clear that they also involved their workforce as a vital source of creativity and just as with Toyota, Quality Circles were given a high priority although with typical Honda independence they are called NH Circles (NH meaning - New Honda).
DHI conduct full implementation programmes for Quality Circles. The UK’s first attempts to introduce Quality Circles in the late 1970s and early 1980s got off to a good start but was quickly ruined by incompetent advice from seemingly authoritative sources. This must not be allowed to happen again.
China now has an estimated more than 20 million Quality Circles and our industry is paying the price for that. How much longer will we remain blind to what clearly Toyota and Honda know as a fact. Quality Circles are essential if the full power and creativity of our workforce is to be realised.