Monday, February 18, 2013

Does "Lean" Contributes To Toyota's Millions Recalls?

Now in Jan, 2013, Toyota is recalling 1.3 million cars for airbag problems which causes two accidents and 18 cases of injury have been reported.[1] By January 2010, Toyota had annonced recalls of 9 million vehicles for the pedal entrapment/floor mat problem.[2] And this Problem is not only happening to Toyota.The WSJ cites a recall of 4.5 million Ford vehicles in which a common component used across different models played a big part[3].

Why? We can find the reason from New York Times, "As automakers including Toyota increasingly use shared parts for various models, the number of recalled vehicles have tended to balloon."[2]

To use shared parts for various models, what does this mean? It means the design thinking is reversed, sometimes ago, good design means a pursuit for best quality which also means speed, beautiful shape, comfortable inside but most of all the endurable and safety, in order to fulfill this goal designer will find the best material for it from different place no matter far or less. But nowadays the logic reversed, people design model to suit the so called "shared parts" which is nearest and most easily to get.  And this is taken as a paradigm for management transition to lean time.

Before we judge, let's take a careful look at what is lean. According to WikiPedia, " 'Lean,' is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination.  " [2]

It seems that the premise of lean is to reduce cost while creating value for customer. At the beggining it's okay, it emphasises more on optimising the process and reduce unreasonable steps and make things more ordered. But when it goes to extreme and be executed as truth, here comes the problem.

The problem is that there is a point when the conflict between increase in customer value and reduce in cost become fierce and it's hard to solve the problem in a short term without tech development.  But the people with "lean" philosophy will not stop here, they put the value quickly seen and easily touched outside as IKEA do in its practice over furnitures(good wood out and bad wood inside), and as we all know Ikea's furniture is good to put there but can't be seriously used or tested.  Those old values we treasure most in old time such as "endurable" and "always safe" is put to a second place in exchange for "less work".  When "lean" comes to this step, its nature changed and this not only hurt customer but also the manufacturer. Toyota paid 5.5 billion dollars for recalling in 2010 and another 1.1 billion for the suitcase to be settled nowadays for the pedal entrapment problem. And it experiences large scale recalls almost every year from then on.

Does "Lean" Contribute to Toyota's Millions Recalls? Does "Lean" need to be applied in a certain domain and stop in some phase? These are the question for you clever readers to decide.

Reference 1: "Toyota recalling 1.3 million cars for airbag problems  " Link

Reference 2: 2009–2011 Toyota vehicle recalls(WikiPedia) Link:

Reference 3: Did Lean Manufacturing Contribute to Toyota Recall? by Ann All, Link:

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