SECAF visits Toyota plant for process alignment ideas

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mitch Gettle
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
The secretary of the Air Force and a group of senior officers recently visited the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky plant in an effort to see quality work in action.

TMMK uses the "Toyota Production System," which involves the alignment of management goals from the Japan headquarters all the way down to the floor workers in the Kentucky operation, Secretary Michael W. Wynne said.

"This alignment is a mirror image of what we can do -- from aligning what we do in Washington, D.C., all the way to Misawa (Air Base), Japan, and all bases and Air Force operations around the world," he said. "I believe we are making progress toward that end."

The TPS fosters safety, quality and cost savings, and as much as it might foster a cost savings, it is much more about job satisfaction, Secretary Wynne said.

"They are empowering their employees on the line to not only make suggestions, but they have a lot of respect for their problem solving and concepts for improvement," he said. "I believe we have that same caliber in our Airmen and civilian workforce, and we have that same respect for their ability to identify a problem, analyze it and suggest a solution that saves us energy, resources or improves safety and quality."

The secretary said he believes the Air Force is now far more reliant on the ideas coming from the tactical level Airmen than ever before in the continuous improvement process. In the past, the efforts for improvement were generally recognized and costs were saved at the local base level.

"What we have now is a much more leveraged program that bridges across the Air Force rather than just localized efforts," Secretary Wynne said. "Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st century now has an effect not just in maintenance, logistics or depot operations, but it can affect computer operations, flight operations, and program office operations. AFSO 21 is a much broader umbrella of what the Air Force does well."

The Air Force instituted AFSO 21 in 2006 to pave the road ahead for continuous process improvement.

"We have been doing continuous process improvement since the '90s, so this is not a revelation for the Air Force," Secretary Wynne said. "Air Force Smart Operations is a continuation of all those things we've been doing in the past. The only difference between this and then is we are now fostering training programs and we're getting a better understanding of how the alignment is from Air Force top level all the way down."
The goal of the Toyota effort is to reach "Yokoten," the word used to describe a point in their process where they share their best quality, safety or cost-saving practices with other Toyota manufacturing plants.

"What they are doing here at TMMK is what the Air Force is trying to do," Secretary Wynne said. "For us, getting better operational readiness and performing our operations safely and accomplishing these by highlighting quality would be extraordinarily beneficial."

This type of learning experience from other organizations benefits the Air Force as it faces tough restructuring challenges.

"Though we are not a profit (striving) organization (like Toyota), our organization has to internally generate funds for improvement," Secretary Wynne said. "The restructuring of the Air Force is a mandatory event and we cannot live with our aging fleet. We're applying those resources being saved straightforwardly toward recapitalization." 

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