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The difference between Toyota’s One-Piece Flow Production method and the Batch method
Hi, this is Mike Negami, Lean Sigma Black Belt.
Today‘s theme is Toyota’s One-Piece Flow method, which is the opposite of the batch method. Previously, I thought that this topic had nothing to do with improving service operations, so I hadn’t covered this topic until now. However, this book ‘The Lean Farm’ has achieved outstanding performance by practicing that in farming.
First of all, what’s the One-Piece Flow method? There is another book called ‘Lean Thinking’, which made the Toyota Production System widely famous in the world. In that book, there is a famous story:
A father and daughter competed for speed of work. The work was folding a letter, putting it in an envelope, sealing the envelope and sticking on a mailing label and a stamp. They divided the number of envelopes in half and started. The daughter did all the envelopes at once for each step, which is the batch method.
However, the father did all the steps at once and completed the envelopes one by one. This is a One-Piece Flow method. We usually use the daughter’s method, right?
The pros and cons of the One-Piece Flow Method
However, it was the father who finished earlier. That was not because the father was faster, but the batch method tends to contain many unnecessary actions such as putting together materials, moving the pile along at each step, etc. This is the same situation at manufacturing sites where it takes time and labor to move and manage their inventory with the batch method. The father’s method, which is the One-Piece Flow excludes those motions.
As you can see from this example, the One-Piece Flow method is faster. The other advantages of the One-Piece Flow method are that you can decrease your inventory amount and that the lead time to make products, is short. Another one is that, with the batch method, you may be able to continue processing even if a problem occurs because of the extra inventory. You may not even notice the problem. On the other hand, the One-Piece Flow method allows you to find and fix any issues as soon as they occur because there is no extra inventory. Toyota gives the most importance to that point.
However, this method can be a double-edged sword. If a company has many problems or low problem-solving skills, their production lines would stop too many times and decrease productivity. It’s possible that companies, who have industry standard quality, implement this One-Piece Flow method and greatly increase their productivity.
Applying Toyota’s One-Piece Flow Method to Service Operations
Now, how can we apply this concept of the One-Piece Flow in our service operations? When you see your company, you will most likely notice that everything is operated by the batch method. Companies work by department, and they usually work by batch. No one doubts that that’s common sense and intuitively fast. In ‘Lean Thinking’ mentioned earlier says this:
“We all need to fight to departmentalize, batch thinking because tasks can almost always be accomplished more efficiently and accurately when the product is worked on continuously from raw material to finished good.” (𝒑𝒈 𝟐𝟐 𝑳𝒆𝒂𝒏 𝑻𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒌𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒃𝒚 𝑾𝒐𝒎𝒂𝒄𝒌 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝑱𝒐𝒏𝒆𝒔)
Then, in ‘The Lean Farm’, how are they applying the concept of the One-Piece Flow? The author says this:
“Harvest as market-ready as possible. In the beginning, our practice for all of our crops was to harvest, bring everything up to the processing area, and sort out the dirty mess later. Now we do as much processing in the field as we can, while the item we picked is in our hand.”
“This means bringing containers or bags, rubber bands, twist ties, and washing supplies – everything we need to get the crop from soil to delivery box or bag – right into the field.” (𝒑𝒈 𝟕𝟏 & 𝟕𝟒 𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝑳𝒆𝒂𝒏 𝑭𝒂𝒓𝒎 𝒃𝒚 𝑩𝒆𝒏 𝑯𝒂𝒓𝒕𝒎𝒂𝒏)
Well, this is amazing. They have precisely realized the concept of One-Piece Flow. Even if they leave dirt and unnecessary items in the field, they will become fertilizer, and there is no waste in the process.
He says, though, that he can’t use this method for all circumstances. However, he always seeks ways to apply the concept. He says there are many more opportunities to achieve that by introducing new machines and technology.
After all, it’s important to keep having a goal to achieve with a sense of purpose. There are more methods and tools in Lean Sigma that may seem to apply only to manufacturing. That kind of stereotype narrows our mind and possibilities. Let’s proactively try them from now on.
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