Jidoka, as a lean production foundation, points toward the capacity of personnel to intercept problems as they arise. This keeps the damage at bay while finding the quickest possible solution. Here, we will learn about Jidoka and why it is so important.

Jidoka's origins

Translating this Japanese term is impossible. In fact, Jidoka is a play of words created in Toyota factories using kanji characters. Essentially, the original word "自動化" means automation. The second ideogram "動" (work) was, however, modified. It merged with the "人" (human) ideogram. A new term, "自 働 化" has emerged. It is now commonly known as "autonomation", meaning the crasis of autonomy and automation. A truer yet less synthetic way of translating "Jidoka" might be "automation with a human touch".

Next, let us explore how integration between people and automation can yield great benefits for a production line. We will also look at what is needed for companies to adopt Jidoka.

Automation is not without humans

We often think of automation as excluding humans from productive mechanisms in order to eliminate human error, to name one advantage. Far from it. Toyota puts humans at the center of activity through autonomation. The employee, no longer a mere executor, is empowered. At the same time, he/she should make decisions based on his/her own experience and training.


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The 4 phases of autonomation

Jidoka views human intervention as a necessary yet insufficient condition. Indeed, automation is just as important. Both play key roles in the method's 4 phases, namely:

  1. Anomaly discovery
  2. Downtime
  3. Immediate resolution
  4. Research on what triggers and eliminates the problem

Let us analyze each point in more detail.

1. Anomaly discovery

However well-thought out, every production process risks hitting an anomaly. What matters is immediately identifying it. Online tests are essential in such cases. If not discovered right away, then one or more defective parts could in fact advance causing further losses, such as: machinery stoppage; non-conforming parts resource use and machine wear and, at worst, damage to other equipment.

2. Downtime

Downtime often evokes fear in the minds of plant managers, and rightly so: unnecessary stops are to be avoided. However, letting an out-of-specification machine run for the sake of productivity is just as counterproductive

This defines the Jidoka approach: anyone can and is obligated to call a downtime if the situation requires it. Alarm management systems can automatically alert operators to minimize response time. The involved then decides whether to proceed with the downtime or not. This decision would be supported by his/her own experience and the system's available information.

If the strategy is implemented correctly, then downtime is never a "waste of time". Rather, it is a fundamental step in ensuring the anomaly never happens again.

3. Immediate resolution

Act on the anomaly once the line has stopped. If trained properly, the operators will be able to independently manage the issue through applied problem-solving techniques. Further, an operator may use a terminal to contact maintenance or highly specialized personnel for more information or direct intervention.

The problem can only be curbed at this point. However, it is essential that every action is carefully documented and that the details of the breakdown are accurately traced. An information tracking system can facilitate this phase.

4. Research on what triggers and eliminates the problem

All previously collected information and solutions are put together and analyzed in this final phase. It may now be necessary, and is even recommended, to involve personnel with diverse skill sets. Specialized personnel rarely witness the event. A database regarding the details of this and similar occurrences, therefore, offers much potential. The goal will no longer be just solving a momentary problem but finding a solid strategy to avoid triggering it again.

This process often becomes complex and expensive in terms of both time and money. In contrast, continuous improvement is a defining feature of the lean company. Today's few work hours can cumulatively correspond to tens or hundreds of hours of avoided downtime in the future.

Jidoka and lean culture

We have learned how "autonomation" works and its advantages in terms of lean production. It is now important to consider how autonomation can be integrated with other lean culture elements and which technological improvements can enable its optimization.

First, here are some guidelines common to the lean world that can enhance Jidoka's effectiveness:

  • Classification → the sequence is fundamental. Ensure each element sets itself apart and is easily identifiable (e.g. color coding);
  • Simplification → every action requires the least possible energy waste. Obstacles, if any, need to be eliminated (e.g. the operator must always be equipped with portable terminals or applications);
  • Control → those in charge and individual employees must stay alert. They need to report anomalies and wrong behavior;
  • Standardization → once a successful procedure is identified, all employees and the entire plant must learn it (e.g. dissemination of standard operating procedures1. [SOP] and out-of-control action plans [OCAP]);
  • Practice and discipline → lean procedures need to become "second nature" through constant use and adherence.

Lean techniques are never used in separate compartments. They must integrate as much as possible.

Jidoka applied

Here is a real-life example to help in applying what has been illustrated so far. Imagine we have an out-of-specification signal. Operator intervention is required to stop the line, and a maintenance technician must work on the machine. Jidoka's ideal sequence might be:

  1. The machine signals an issue through visual and auditory systems
  2. The nearest operator follows SOP to identify and classify the problem
  3. By using a portable terminal or station near the machinery, he/she:
    1. Stops production
    2. Contacts a maintenance technician; provides his/her inspection details or the actual machine details
    3. The terminal automatically relays the stop to the area manager; the maintenance technician identifies the cause and time of intervention
  4. The maintenance technician concludes the intervention; the possibility of resuming production is communicated via the same system to operators and area managers
  5. All collected information remains available to staff in order to simplify future operations and for specialized technicians to plan targeted interventions for reducing the likelihood of future occurrences.

A system where everyone can quickly and independently act means minimizing downtime. We have learned to never underestimate the value of lean practices. Allow them to enter every aspect of the company. This is the only way to get the most out of one's own factory and access the Industry 4.0 world.


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