Autoliv is one of the successful Fortune 500 auto companies specializing in safety components. With over 80 plants across 32 countries, the company has come a long way with 2007 revenues topping $6.7 billion. One of the outstanding features contributing to this success is the lean manufacturing practices, which are synonymous with the company. According to Krajewski, Malhotra, and Ritzman (2016), the firm’s lean manufacturing environment is called the Autoliv Production System (APS), which borrows heavily from Toyota’s version of the Toyota Production System (TPS). This paper discusses Autoliv’s workflow methods and whether they are being applied well in operations. As an outside consultant hired by the company, my work in this paper is to evaluate and make recommendations on Autoliv’s methods of workflow.
Autoliv’s Workflow Analysis
Autoliv’s methods of the workflow are hinged on the premise of continuous improvement or learning, which is applied in its day-to-day operations based on the “House of Toyota” concept. The culture of lean manufacturing was fully incorporated into the company by 2004. Every morning, all employees assemble and participate in pre-shift stretching and briefing as part of the workers’ active involvement in the APS system. After this brief meeting, people move to their different work cells to receive heijunka cards from the Heijunka Room team members. These cards detail the nature of work that has to be done in every cell. The different work cells are autonomous, and thus they have all they need in terms of materials and equipment, which are constantly supplied using the kanban card system. As part of its just-in-time (JIT) operations, after the lapse of every 24 minutes, a different heijunka card arrives at the cell informing the employees on what to build next.
These methods of the workflow at Autoliv have been applied systematically and efficiently, which explains why the company has been highly successful in the automotive industry. As such, employees have adopted the culture of continuous improvement, and thus every time an abnormal condition in one or more products is noted, the involved employees slow down their work or stop it altogether to address the problem. This “stop and fix” approach by the company, borrowed from Toyota’s jidoka (Sisson & Elshennawy, 2015) allows Autoliv to maintain its reputation among clients because the end products rarely have any defects. The same concept is applied when a machine fails to work properly or there is a deviation from the laid down procedures of operation. As such, this system prevents the company from incurring extra costs associated with recalled products on top of winning the customers’ trust and confidence.
The company also has an elaborate way of ensuring that workers are focused on their activities every day. A blue “communication wall” is placed strategically to be visible to all employees as they head to their various work cells whereby they can read the company’s objectives concerning customer satisfaction, safety policies, quality, and financial performance. This, together with an overhead banner in each cell displaying monthly performance in various areas for the respective cells, allows employees to remain focused on achieving their daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals. Another robust application of continuous improvement at the company is the presence of a visual communication method whereby a rail is used to manage the heijunka cards. The rail is color-coded and thus every time a card is delivered, it goes down to the team and depending on where it settles, workers understand whether extra time within the day or week is needed to complete the pending tasks.
Therefore, if a certain cell is not performing according to the set schedules, the cards pile up, and given that they are visible to everyone in the milieu, the affected team, together with the management, respond appropriately by implementing countermeasures to address the situation. This approach is the most suitable for Autoliv’s lean environment as it ensures that every team member within the various cells is working hard, in line with the set goals to beat the deadlines and at the same time deliver quality products to customers. Additionally, the company meets its targets and it keeps on improving every day, thus becoming one of the best players in the industry.
From Autoliv’s methods of workflow, I have learned that companies could easily streamline their operations and improve productivity through a lean manufacturing process. In the same way, Autoliv contracted Takashi Harada to implement a change process by teaching the company’s management the various principles of this practice, different organizations could adopt the same procedure. However, it appears that the company has problems with keeping suppliers due to the ever-changing supply-chain needs. Therefore, I recommend that the management should engage the various players in the chain and agree on the best way of working as a team for the continued delivery of quality products to customers. Additionally, the company should strive to perfect its continuous improvement approach by supporting employees to achieve the set goals. Employee motivation is central to performance, and thus it should feature prominently in the lean manufacturing process for the company’s long-term success.
Krajewski, L. J., Malhotra, M. K., & Ritzman, L. P. (2016). Operations management: Processes and supply chains. Pearson.
Sisson, J., & Elshennawy, A. (2015). Achieving success with Lean: An analysis of key factors in Lean transformation at Toyota and beyond. International Journal of Lean Six Sigma, 6(3), 263-280.