I Feel For Toyota

During my fifty-three year career in manufacturing, I developed a flair for solving a problem. It is not easy.  In order to find the root cause you have to continue to ask why until people think you are nuts.  My last job was manufacturing a product that we made in the billions. The item is relatively simple in appearance, but it is highly functional. The product is a cable tie. The original purpose of the cable tie was to hold wires together.  Over the years, people have learned to find many applications for this unique item.

My team designed the product, designed and made the molds that produced the product, and set the quality requirements of the manufacturing process. Often we received a complaint. Usually, a customer told us the ties were breaking. He wanted us to fix the problem. Our sales staff immediately replaced his defective product. Most of the time, it was a single package.  My engineers always asked for samples of the failures and any unused samples from the package that the failure ties came from. The failed tie often contained clues to why it failed.  The unused samples gave us some product to test in our lab. If we were very lucky, the Quality Control number was still on the package. That number allowed us to trace the manufacturing process variables.

Usually, I received a handful of broken ties from the complaint. With those samples, it became my job to determine what caused the failure.  I will not bore you with the details of how I proceeded, but if I could not duplicate the problem in the lab, I was looking for a needle in a haystack. Many times, we shut down our highest producing mold until there was an answer.  Talk about pressure to do something.  I can only imagine what is going on within Toyota right now, but I have a good feeling for what it is. I feel for the engineers whose job it is to solve the problem.

Currently, I drive a 2005 Toyota Avalon. I have rehearsed my reaction to a runaway acceleration many times. I only hope that if it happens that I have enough time to react appropriately before I kill myself or someone else. I have dubbed my car the Death Star. At this writing, I am listening to the Senate questioning of the CEO of Toyota. The man, Akio Toyoda from Toyota, said their fix might not be the answer to the acceleration problem. That is a nice way of saying they still do not have a clue about what is causing the problem.

I also studied the quality process taught by US guru Joe Duran, and utilized by the Japanese car companies. In this program, Duran taught that it is cost effective to shut a line down when you find a problem, and leave it down until you fix the problem.  That is a hard concept to swallow. Most manufacturing companies do not buy into it. Mine often did, but the justification for shutting down a mold had to be great. In Toyota’s move to stop selling cars, and to shut down their factories until they fix the quality problem, they practice what they preach. They will come out as winners in the long term.

In the meantime, I bet there are at least a thousand engineers running like chickens with their heads cut off trying to duplicate the problem. As they analyze every aspect of the design, they will come up with ideas that are very probably the answer, and they will implement solutions. They may even stumble upon the root cause and re-create the problem. That is when I will believe they have solved the problem, and until then I drive the Death Star.

One Response

  1. Interesting point of view. You made some really good points. I never thought about it that way..finding something that is wrong being like a needle in a haystack. But the only thing I fix around here is “boo boo’s” so maybe that is why. Ha.

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