TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Toyota's rapid expansion and sales growth in North America has a troubling side for the company: Senior management is concerned the organization could lose sight of what made it successful - the Toyota Production System.
Teruyuki Minoura, CEO of Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America Inc., worries that the rapid addition and promotion of managers has resulted in a 'dilution of understanding of TPS.'
Toyota considers its production system, which focuses on lean manufacturing ideals and continual waste reduction, as its critical weapon for maintaining product quality and productivity.
In the past few years of growth, Minoura said, Toyota has promoted many factory team members to supervisory and management positions.
'People with only two or three years of experience in a position were promoted to the next level supervisor,' Minoura said Aug. 7. 'This rate of promotion might not seem unusual to Americans, but it is highly unusual in a plant that practices the Toyota Production System. I can tell you this with conviction, nobody can ever learn very much of TPS in such a short time.'
Minoura oversees manufacturing at auto plants and component factories in Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia, Missouri, Ontario and British Columbia. The automaker has grown to about 30,000 employees on this continent, he noted. 'What concerns us most is that North America is experiencing rapid growth, and the question is whether we have the time to do what we need to in training and nurturing our people,' Minoura said. 'It may limit our growth in the future.'
But Minoura also said the company is pressing for additional training in the Toyota system.
The company is studying ways to speed up learning about the production system, with additional classroom time and lectures.
It also is working with a group approach to training, sending small groups around the plant to make improvements so individuals can learn from each other.