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Toyota Renews Commitment to Continuous Improvement

Over the years, a certain stereotype of manufacturers has developed: that they are only interested in automating and standardizing production so they can churn out products as quickly as possible. "In almost every company you would visit, the workers' jobs are to feed parts into a machine and call somebody for help when it breaks down," explains Jeffrey Liker, a lean consultant and professor of industrial and operations engineering at the University of Michigan.

This one-size-fits-all mentality may be fine for many consumer goods companies, but it just doesn't work in the fluid power industry.

At Daman Products, we've never stopped appreciating the importance of the human element in manufacturing. Our workers need to be masters of their craft because we pride ourselves on our ability to design, build and deliver custom manifolds that meet our customers' specific needs. Each week, we process more than 140 custom manifold quotations, and custom products comprise 65 percent of our total production.

To produce quality manifolds that accommodate unique requirements while respecting industry conventions, our workers need a deep understanding of how fluid power systems operate. Without this level of mastery, we would never be able to keep up with demand for custom products.

We're always looking to spread the word about our culture of continuous improvement, and were interested to see a recent piece from Bloomberg that looks at how Toyota, a company whose name has long been synonymous with lean principles, is returning to its roots and putting a renewed emphasis on craftsmanship and mastery in its factories.

Specifically, the company is rethinking its reliance on automation. President Akio Toyoda selected Mitsuru Kawai, a veteran employee with a 50-year history at Toyota,  to spearhead this effort. Kawai started working at the company during the tenure of Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System, which is steeped in the philosophy of continuous improvement.

Kawai has developed 100 workstations for human craftsmen at Toyota factories in Japan, with the goal of developing new, more efficient ways to complete tasks that are currently performed the same way, day in and day out, by robots. This initiative has already generated results, yielding a new process for building crankshafts that cuts material waste by 10 percent and shortens the production line by 96 percent, relative to three years ago.

"We cannot simply depend on the machines that only repeat the same task over and over again," Kawai said during an interview. "To be the master of the machine, you have to have the knowledge and the skills to teach the machine."

We at Daman could not agree more with this statement. Modern computers and robotic tools have made manifold design and manufacturing more efficient, but human intuition is essential to the ongoing evolution of these processes. We hope other companies will be inspired by Toyota's example and consider starting their own continuous improvement journey.

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