I have visited three former Nissan Diesel factories in Japan this week (today owned by a foreign multinational). The plants operate according to the Nissan Diesel Production System—a bi-product of the famous Nissan Production Way (NPW). I believe that too many lean-lovers focus too heavily on the Toyota Production System (TPS), and know too little about alternative approaches to world-class production. The core idea of an XPS is exactly that the X should be tailored to the company, and not be a TPS-blueprint. In fact, the NPW might provide a better benchmark for many Western manufacturers than the TPS…
The objective of the TPS and the NPW is the same: To achieve world-class operations by reducing waste and reducing lead times. But the approaches have some important differences: Where Toyota focuses on extreme simplicity and Kanban-based supply, Nissan focuses on synchronization and technology-driven supply. Nissan relies far more on the use of IT and detailed planning of just-in-time deliveries. In the factories you see a synchronized dance of parts and products flowing seamlessly on the shop-floor and merging with the moving assembly line. Low-tech AGVs are the blood flow in the factory, bringing perfectly prepared parts directly to where they are needed and when they are needed (the when is the trick). Yes, Toyota achieves the same with Kanban, but the approach is still different.
The two “never-endings”
The purpose of the Nissan Production Way is to achieve “boundless synchronization with customers and boundless exposure of problems and innovation”. Thus there are two key aspects: Synchronization and Kaizen—known as the “two never-endings”. Ideal synchronization means “produce when consume”. In reality this means supply when consume, with a never-ending quest to make just-in-time supply perfect. The overall objective is to reduce lead-times.
Synchronization is the result of a holistic plan and discipline to the plan. At the factories I visited, it is not just the product on the line that moves; the carts with kitted parts to be assembled and the operator often move together with the line. There is no inventory at the line other than the needed parts and simple two-bin systems of small standard components. Standardization is the heart beat of the system–the routine that makes it all possible. Kaizen is the brain that constantly improve the standard and the workplace. The methods for Kaizen are QC-circles, Nissan’s 4-boxes method and the classical PDCA. Andon makes sure the system is fit; the andon cord is used many times every day to eliminate any hick-ups that might occur. The result is a world-class production system.
NPW was introduced in 1994. The basis of the NPW is Gemba Kanri: Shop-floor management performed by experienced and trained Foremen. The factory is managed based on the real situation on shop-floor compared to the plan. There are two situations: Normal and abnormal production. For any abnormal activities that deviates from the plan or the standard, the improvement loop is started right on the shop-floor; after analysis of current operations the wanted operation is designed, tested and verified, before becoming the new standard. Employees are trained in the new standard and it becomes the normal situation. Daily meeting structures, the Andon system and Foremen’s daily work keep this ecosystem alive and thriving.
Nissan’s XPS deserves attention from more Western companies. Compared to Toyota, the synchronization philosophy of Nissan is more geared towards lower-volume, higher-variety and more high-tech manufacturing. Exactly the type of characteristics that western economies claim to have. Be warned though; even if the system is simple in concept, it requires a level of discipline that is rare to find outside the Japanese society. However, Western plants like Nissan in Sunderland has proven many times that world-class effectiveness is achievable with an approach like NPW. Is it possible? Yes it is!