Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Autonomation: Old is New Again; Toyota and Lean

I came upon the word Autonomation recently and felt it was interesting enough to bring it up.  The concept comes from Toyota as they were developing Lean Manufacturing in the 1990s.  The primary goal for Lean Manufacturing is to eliminate waste and thus improve production and quality. Autonomation is also referred to as jidoka in Toyota's TPS process.  Autonomation or jidoka is one of the layers in Lean Manufacturing, meant to trap failures rather than produce results.  The earliest example Toyota notes is from 1924.

In 1896, Sakichi Toyoda invented Japan's first self-powered loom called the "Toyoda Power Loom." Subsequently, he incorporated numerous revolutionary inventions into his looms, including the weft-breakage automatic stopping device (which automatically stopped the loom when a thread breakage was detected), the warp supply device and the automatic shuttle changer. Then, in 1924, Sakichi invented the world's first automatic loom, called the "Type-G Toyoda Automatic Loom (with non-stop shuttle-change motion)" which could change shuttles without stopping operation. The Toyota term "jido" is applied to a machine with a built-in device for making judgments, whereas the regular Japanese term "jido" (automation) is simply applied to a machine that moves on its own. Jidoka refers to "automation with a human touch," as opposed to a machine that simply moves under the monitoring and supervision of an operator. Since the loom stopped when a problem arose, no defective products were produced. This meant that a single operator could be put in charge of numerous looms, resulting in a tremendous improvement in productivity. - http://www.toyota-global.com/company/vision_philosophy/toyota_production_system/jidoka.html

The term Autonomation feels similar to the term I coined perviously, Manumation.  In the wiki article on Autonomation, I found it interesting that Shigeo Shingo claimed there were 23 stages between manual and fully automated processes.  Unfortunately, there is no citation for where that claim was made and while I saw others repeat the claim, no one had any citation nor data on the stages that I could find.  In my mind, Autonomation is just one form of Manumation.  However, it is also an attitude.  You don't have to try to fully automate something on your first attempt to create automation.  The idea that you set your automation up knowing it will fail, that it will need humans but don't bother the humans until it fails and that the failure is easily traceable and fixable.  Also, it means attempting to fail quickly rather than generating a bunch of waste work.

Ultimately, automation of any sort is meant to help people.  If it helps you get work done, even if it requires a human touch, it is worth considering.  What sort of autonomation have you done?

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