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Standardize for Sustainability

Allegory of Science by Jules Blanchard . Located on the square of the city hall of Paris .

Standardization is often associated with rigidly scripted standard operating practices.  When everyone in the company is following the same procedure, the output will (in theory) be the same.  It’s what makes a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato taste the same anywhere you order it in the world (in your reusable mug, I hope).   In a lean company, standardization includes specific standard operating procedures to insure things like production pace, quality assurance, and consistency.  But it also goes a step further in order to achieve an additional outcome: continuous improvement.

The true aim of standardization is progress, and we can’t know if we’re making progress unless we’re measuring and testing what we’re doing.  In a lean company, standardization can and should be considered scientific experimentation at work.  Like the scientific method, standardization begins with a hypothesis rooted in simplicity.

Take Toyota, for example.  They have manuals outlining standard operating procedures for every part of their production system.  These explanations are specific and rigid; made on the basis of past experience or other “evidence”.  The procedures are then tested on the line as a series of controlled experiments.

In science, disproof of a hypothesis is considered progress as new information has been discovered.  Likewise, when there’s a defect in the process and it can be eliminated, we believe the system has become that much more efficient.

In a lean and green company, the goal of eliminating defects from the process is coupled with reducing the impact on the environment.   The two are intertwined.  Toyota is a lean green leader and has been thinking this way for over 30 years.    One example of how the Toyota North American plant used standardization to reduce an environmental impact is the evolution of their shipping containers.   By standardizing their reusable container system, Toyota has been able to increase its space efficiency in trailers by 21 percent. According to the Toyota website, this has resulted in a savings of more than $3 million in transportation costs, or approximately $18 for each vehicle built, as well as countless carbon emissions saved from entering the air from fewer trips and having to remanufacturing fewer damaged goods.  

In the nature of continuous improvement, Toyota is working on designing lighter, modular (better fitting and error-proof during loading) pallets and containers to transport more goods within the truck’s weight limit to reduce transportation costs and a carbon footprint by an additional 15%.  A mantra of Toyota is, “We strive for efficiency, because the more efficient we can be, the less we waste.”

Another example is from Alliance-MIM, a metal injection molding company based in France which I just had the pleasuring of touring.  The work to standardize their metal injection molding, or MIM, process resulted in a vast reduction of waste and production costs — their current yield is 95%.  

The CEO, Jean-Claude Bihr, is no stranger to using the scientific method, as he holds a PHD in material sciences focused on metallurgy.  Through standardization and the elimination of waste, he continued to improve the molding process to the efficiency it is today.  The aim for Alliance-MIM is quality. Bihr said, “Anytime there is a deviation from quality, it impacts the environment.”  

When producing a product or service, standardization teaches the lean and green cycle:  hypothesize, experiment, improve and reduce, repeat.  The more testing your organization does, the more efficient you’ll become, your product’s quality will increase, and the less impact you’ll have on the environment.


Want to find out more about Toyota’s reusable  shipping container program? Read here

In case you missed it: Jean-Claude Bihr shares his thoughts on the Future of Luxury.



Categories: New Post, Toyota

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