The same problem, the same approach to solve and the different target for the solution

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2014)


Since the end of 20th century, competition in the same markets among globalized auto companies has become more intense. Vehicles have mainly been manufactured in the country or region of sale. Competition in the same country or region therefore mainly means competition of production system efficiency. For this reason, we focus here on comparing various kinds of production systems.

As you know it has become widely accepted in the mainstream that Toyota production system is the most up-to-date and efficient production system and Uddevalla 1989-1992 the converse. The latter is regarded as the out-of-date craftsman production system.

However in our research we, joint co-authors from Japan and Sweden, have found quite interesting facts that contradict the mainstream view. We found that both Toyota and Volvo Uddevalla 1989-1992 faced the same shortage of young workers in the 1980s and took the same approach to solve it. This approach was work-focused improvement, and the concrete tools for solving it were four similar or identical work-focused devices. They were reintroduction of contextual meaning in operations, grouping of parts based on contextual meaning, kit systems based on parts grouping, and embedding various kinds of buffer in the line to absorb fluctuations in work pace.

As showed above each solves the same problem -- a shortage of young labor -- by work-focused improvement; however, the concrete targets differ. Toyota’s goal was to reintroduce contextual meaning, but Uddevalla 89-92's was to reintroduce integrated work.

Therefore the functions of these four work-focused devices were very different because each had a different target. Firstly, the common characteristic of three of the work-focused devices, excluding buffers, was contextual meaning. However, this contextual meaning functioned differently at Toyota and Uddevalla 89-92. In the case of Toyota, its aim was to exclude Inner Dialogue in labor process and ensure a certain level of efficiency and work quality regardless of the worker's competence and attentiveness. It thus functions as a tool to create objective devices to achieve efficiency and work quality independent of a worker’s body and mind.

In contrast, at Uddevalla 89-92, contextual meaning functioned as a tool to promote quick and smooth Inner Dialogue.
In the case of Toyota, work grouping based on contextual meaning and kit systems based on work grouping are tools to separate work from Inner Dialogue and standardize it; conversely, in the case of Uddevalla 89-92 work grouping and kit systems promoted Inner Dialogue.
Of the four work-focused devices, buffers are the only one with common functions in the technical sense. That is to say, at both Toyota and Uddevalla 89-92, buffers functioned technically to incorporate flexibility into the production process, absorbing fluctuations in production volume due to work-pace fluctuation. However, the social function differed. Inherent flexibility is regarded as a necessary evil by Toyota management and it is strictly controlled to avoid abuse. In case of Uddevalla 89-92, incorporating flexibility was regarded as the technical basis for enabling the autonomy of workers and workgroups in the work process.
These facts forced us to reconsider the mainstream understanding and opened the way to work towards not only an efficient but also a humane production system.

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