Insights From an Automobile Expert on Manufacturing, Technology and Leadership Excellence

Insights From an Automobile Expert on Manufacturing, Technology and Leadership Excellence

What is it about Toyota and Manufacturing that the world is still not benefitting from?

The Toyota Production system is a culture and is a DNA, it is not just a lean manufacturing way of functioning that you gather from some of the best books or a training session. It is a way of life and almost like a Guru Sishya Parampara where knowledge from seniors is passed down to generations and is something that needs to be experienced and internalized. The Toyota Production system is the greatest asset of Toyota and for any professional working in the plant, it is an experiential journey. For instance,

  • Cleaning leads to checking
  • Checking leads to detection of abnormalities
  • Detection of abnormalities leads to counter measures
  • Counter measures leads to positive effects
  • Positive effects lead to Pride in the Workplace

So, if you investigate it further, it is not just cleaning, but as one traverses these steps, a new journey emerges, and new idea develops that has a deeper meaning and purpose to it.

Another example will be the A3 writing. A3 Writing is a popular concept which warrants writing a 1-page summary from a 1000 or more-word report on a solution for a business or technical problem. As simple as it may sound, it is a challenging exercise and each time you redraft, your understanding of the problem is enlarged and your mind goes into an expansive thinking mode and during this cathartic process the person develops his/her ability to think logically and new solutions emerge. A3 management is about building structured opportunities for people to learn in the manner that comes naturally to them: through experience, from mistakes and trial and error. And I have had my own share of A3 writing experiences, where I have redone it several times, and the beauty is each time I attempt to rewrite, I look at it afresh with new dimensions emerging and it is a fascinating process. The Toyota working style is all about keeping an open mind, a challenging spirit and thrive in a world of endless opportunities.

The A3 process is a Toyota-pioneered practice and a powerful lean management tool that provides a macro perspective. For example, the earth at the ground level, may be described by several as rectangle, circle or flat, but thousands of kilometres away it is round. This is what the big picture is all about. This is a powerful problem-solving tool typically describing the current situation, clearly outlining the ideal situation and the gap between the two is clearly visualised as the problem. The problem is then broken down to tackle the most prioritized issue or the low hanging fruit.

Then a quantitative and challenging target is set based on sound logic and followed by a detailed root cause analysis using a fish bone diagram, development of occurrence countermeasures with a detailed schedule of time plan. By practising A3 across the organization, people have developed seamlessly and use the basic DNA of Toyota.

5 principles behind Toyota Production System are:

  1. Respect for People: This is much more than greetings, but genuinely respecting people for their time, thoughts, contribution, values and importantly the respect as a human being.
  2. Teamwork: A strong belief in the power of teamwork and the endeavour to make one plus one more than two.
  3. Challenging Spirit: Developing an attitude that stretches one’s capabilities to the maximum best. The brain has an infinite potential to expand and achieve more.
  4. Continuous Improvement through Kaizens: Knowing the current situation and the ideal situation and identifying the gaps.
  5. Genchi Genbutsu: The occurrence countermeasures are developed and the result is sustained, stabilised and further seamlessly improved through bench marking and PDCAs (Plan,Do,Check,Act) are continuously rotated .To put it short , sky is not the outer limit for Kaizen!

What can India teach Japan when it comes to automotive and manufacturing?

India has an amazing quality when it comes to firefighting and frugal engineering. We are masters in achieving things under time and pressure and we have unbeatable quality of doing this phenomenally – well juxtaposed with creativity and innovation. We have pockets of excellence and we rise to the occasion, but the problem is in sustenance. We do not sustain and miss to continue our journey of excellence.

Our products are cost competitive and we are skilled and have rich human resources and by far our English-speaking abilities makes us thrive across the globe. Our adaptability quotient is high, we can acclimatize to new cultures and geographies and win over people with talent and dedication. India is a source for global supply chain. Our machine tools and components are all cost effective. We are the youngest heterogenous population and come with so much potential that we will play a vital role in the global economic landscape.

What stories come to mind, when you think of leaders thriving during a crisis?

I recollect the horrible experience of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when I think of leadership under crisis, and what can be a more fitting story than this to recall. A nation came together after being completely wiped out and built a new world relying solely on their strengths. The term `Made in Japan’ is such an ordinary three letter word but it instantly evokes an image of exceptional design and high-quality production (few examples being Sony, Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi). They demonstrated their power to the world, and made the world look up to them for their quality.

They have proved that the end is the beginning and that success is not permanent, and failure is only temporary. Failures provide us with opportunities to think and go back to basics, assess, understand ourselves and bring in humility, ownership, and teamwork to build a brave new world.

Like for example, the manufacturing world has never been working from home but Covid19 has taught us that it is possible and showed us a new way. So is the case with the Bombay bomb blasts and 9/11 Twin Towers shooting. Every crisis gives leaders a blank page to write a new story and create a new beginning.

What business model changes do you envisage for the Automobile industry for this decade?

CAFE or Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency/Economy regulations are in force in many advanced as well as developing nations, including India. The automobile industry has a huge responsibility towards building safe cars that are environmentally friendly. Therefore, business models that will see the light of the day will revolve around lowering fuel consumption (or improving fuel efficiency) of vehicles by lowering carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This will serve the twin purposes of reducing dependence on oil for fuel and controlling pollution.

For global automakers, the biggest challenge lies on the emission front and therefore a shift towards electric vehicle use will also bring down air pollution substantially. Few other business models that are in the pipeline and will create a paradigm shift include hybrid, autonomous cars, owning cars vs sharing, hydrogen cars and so on.  I had the opportunity to drive around in Googles’ Waymo’s driverless cars and it was exactly how fishes swim in the Pacific Ocean without touching each other. They have used sensors smartly and is indeed an automobile marvel.

The future will be no doubt be electric for a greener earth towards zero emissions. However, the journey towards 100% electric mobility will be a challenging one. The key to achieve this would be the development of a sustainable and competitive supply chain to manufacture critical components such as motor, generator, PCU, battery etc.  apart from the availability of clean power, high speed charging stations across the entire nation and the disposal of hazardous lithium ion batteries. As an intermediary landing point, I strongly believe that hybrid cars would be a good solution and in real terms the cost/emission balance is very encouraging because the hybrid cars largely run-on batteries for low speeds in the city traffic and uses gasoline only for high-speed driving on highways/expressways. We can derive a good mileage efficiency with minimal emissions and will result in reduced ownership costs. With the full development of competitive supply chain and supporting infra and availability of clean power we can gradually transit to fully electric mobility. With the stricter CAFE 2 emission norms in the near future, I see a great potential for hybrid cars.

What are the technology blind-spots still prevalent in the manufacturing industry?

Manufacturing is transforming into digital manufacturing. 3D printing, Internet of Things (IoT), Nano Technologies, Quantum Mechanics, Big Data Analytics and Cloud Computing- all this will integrate to find a new manufacturing paradigm. IoT has infinite applications for the manufacturing industry.

IoT has radical benefits when it comes to mission downtime, process quality, trouble free maintenance and other things. However, the manufacturing industry is yet to unravel the IoT and experience its benefits. Likewise, the 3D printer also needs more awareness which has the potential for more opportunities.

How is the automobile industry staying ahead of customer preferences and technology advances?

Historically automobile industry has been ahead of the curve, be it in colours or types of vehicles because mobility and transport are fundamental to human beings. Every year, we are delighting customers with better quality of cars, technology, fuel efficiency, vehicle lightness, fuel options, google maps and many more to come. Automobile is a confluence of various industries and the advancement in several other fields are impacting us as well.

When Steve Jobs made wonder with the launch of iPad, he had the uncanny ability to pre-empt the market trends and intuitively guess the customer mind much ahead of time. And when he launched the iPad it saw a tremendous response, which is because he went, where nobody went and created a market. What can be more apt than to draw inspiration from this when it comes to understanding the customer mind.

the end is the beginning and that success is not permanent, and failure is only temporary. Failures provide us with opportunities to think and go back to basics, assess, understand ourselves and bring in humility, ownership, and teamwork to build a brave new world.

What advice would you provide to leaders for them to develop their teams to be better than themselves?

I would urge and encourage them to develop successors, because this is where most of them are failing and consider themselves permanent. The next decade must be spent on developing a strong second and third line of courageous leaders to face the future forthrightly and with a forward-looking outlook.

The leadership of several organizations have come crumbling down only because a strong leader left, and such scenarios can be avoided only when we build the leadership pipeline. Leaders must consciously dispense their responsibilities to the second line and focus on the strategic. As much as we say this, it is not happening. They never do this and there is a yawning gap between hierarchies.

Parasuraman T R Parasuraman T R

President and WholeTime Director, Toyota Industries Engine India Pvt. Ltd

T R Parasuraman has been working in the Toyota Group of companies for over 20 years. He is also the President of the Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce (BCIC). He has held many positions in the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India (ACMA) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). Having worked in different functions like manufacturing, HRD, finance, safety, etc. has given him a wide breadth of knowledge of the automotive industry. His focus is on human capital and developing people to become future leaders.

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