In this blog we are going to look at one of the central concepts in the Toyota Production System: Jidoka. We talked about takt time, flow and pull, kaizen and standardized work in previous blogs. These concepts tend to get a lot more attention than Jidoka. Even though jidoka is as important to reducing struggle for employees, producing to the beat of the customer, increasing quality and reducing costs.
Let's look at the basics first, the definition. According to the Lean Lexicon jidoka is providing machines and operators the ability to detect when an abnormal condition has occurred and immediately stop work. This enables operations to build in quality at each process and to separate men and machines for more efficient work. Jidoka is one of the two pillars of the Toyota Production System along with just-in-time.
Jidoka is also called automation with a human touch. This is when you give equipment the ability to distinguish good parts from bad parts without being monitored by a person. This frees up people to focus on value creating tasks that need human input. When done well this means people's skills will be used more effectively and their job will add more value.
How can Jidoka help your company?
Jidoka brings a lot to your company when done well, but it takes some getting used to. It highlights causes of problems because works stops immediately when a defect is detected. This forces you to solve the problem immediately at the time and place the problem occured. By doing this you will save money (no more defective parts to throw away or pass downstream) and effort (you do not have to wonder about or work with a possibly defective process). This implies that people are not punished when the line stops, that they have the time, resources and skills to fix the problem and that you have a consistent story about why stopping the line immediately is important and worth it in the long run.
One reason why Jidoka is often forgotten is because not everyone is comfortable giving people or machines the power to stop the line. The basic level of trust is not there. Another reason is that it does not feel efficient or right to stop the line for one mistake. Maybe there is no structural cause, just one incident. Why would you stop the line for that? So if you want to use Jidoka in your company you will need to be consistent about why it matters, be present at the shopfloor and redirect attention to fix problems at the root cause.
With new production lines Jidoka will lead to a lot of stops of production at first making it kind of counterintuitive and at times maybe frustrating (you have a new product you are enthusiastic about and you have to stop production again). But once there is stability in the process both quality and reliability have been proven to be higher with Jidoka than without. Because you need to build automation, build trust in stopping the line and build the skills and resources to do this well it takes some time before your investment in Jidoka starts to pay out in better quality and lower costs. But as said before it is worth it. Both for the companies bottom line and for the employees since you reduce waste and struggle.
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