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Toyota Motor Corp. was made possible thanks to what invention?

02/01/10

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An automated loom

What: Sakichi Toyoda, one of the most celebrated inventors in Japanese history (Forbes magazine once named him one of the most influential businessmen ever), started out as a weaver. His breakthrough invention — circa 1924 — was a loom which shut itself down whenever it detected imperfections in the fabric.

Some of the money from the sale of this invention went to Toyoda’s son Kiichiro, who used it to start a little car company called Toyota. And the principle behind the loom became a foundation for Toyota’s revolutionary manufacturing process.

Why: Like Toyoda’s loom, each machine in Toyota’s assembly line is designed to shut down if there’s a problem. The entire production process pauses while a worker examines and repairs the malfunctioning machine. So instead of inspecting a finished car to see if there are any flaws, problems are detected before they can “infect” a car in the first place. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Get this: Sakichi Toyoda is also credited with inventing “The Five Whys” — a widely-taught troubleshooting system. The idea is that, to determine the root cause of any given problem, employees need to ask “why?” at least five times. The Toyota recall would seem to indicate someone stopped at four.

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