TPM: Total Productive Manufacturing

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What is ‘Total Productive Maintenance’?


Many companies look upon maintenance as a cost consuming activity, with diffuse revenues.

Around 1970 however, General Electric initiated a movement whereby Maintenance no longer was regarded only as costly, but merely as a significant factor in the process to create and achieve higher profitability.

The ‘Japanese Institute for Plant Maintenance’, managed by Mr. Nakajima, has further developed these ideas. Mr. Nakajima based his strategy upon the principles of Mr. Deming, founder of the Total Quality Management philosophy.

The principles of Total Quality Management are:

  1. Observe and analyze details.
  2. Objective measurement of the real situation.
  3. Continuous optimisation of production tools, by improving employee involvement and engagement.

Small Group Activities

This is how Quality Circles were initiated. Following this process, ‘Small Group Activities’ were formed with senators both from Production as well as from Maintenance departments, who tackled productivity problems together. A new attitude towards Maintenance was developed: Production and Maintenance were organized on a much more common base and Kaizen, a method to achieve and implement continuous improvement, was introduced.


Kaizen is a combination of the Japanese words Kai (to improve) and Zen (the Good): It should lead to improvement for the best.

a better translation would be: ‘continuous self-development’


Following the successes of the Japanese automotive industry, Europe followed the idea to implement Japanese techniques. The focus was on quality and Quality Circles but results were much less spectacular than in Japan.

The traditional production organization

Most companies know a functional division: a planning department, a production department, a maintenance department etc.

This organizational structure was based upon the theory of Taylor who, at the beginning of this century, discovered that specialization resulted in enormous efficiency improvements.

Job Descriptions

A significant detail about this way of organizing is that the description of the contents and the purposes of the jobs at the different departments is fairly narrow. The bad news about a structural organization however, is the likeliness of miscommunication about tasks, responsibilities and priorities between the various divisions and departments.

Solving problems and misunderstandings, only to often results in waste discussions about responsibilities. Typical negative effects are:

  • problems are being pushed forward or backwards to another department instead of being solved;
  • departments en divisions (read: people) do not feel it to be their cup-of-tea, at the expense of other departments (window-dressing).

It is clear that a company should not spill its energy playing internal power games. A company will thrive when its energy, knowledge and skills are focused on meeting the customer’s requirements.

Integration of Functions

Integration of the production department, the maintenance department, the planning department, the purchasing department and quality control will result in a lean production organization.

It is important that teams with representatives from all the departments carefully monitor the ‘twilight responsibilities’ between products or product groups.

Autonomous Teams

In a traditional organization the introduction of ‘autonomous task teams’ or ’product teams’ with clear goals and purposes is a helpful and effective tool. Each team is responsible for the final result, either a product or a group of products.

Goal Cascading

Therefore it is important that goals are clearly set, cascading from the top, down to the shop-floor: ‘Hoshin Kanri’ (Policy Deplyment).

Access to Information

An other prerequisite for the successfulness of autonomous teams is that the members of each team have sufficient information about and understanding of the problem. They will need support and trust to take their responsibilities independently. Although this prerequisite seems to be logically based upon the first step, traditional managers experience it as a revolution.

Letting go of the traditional –based upon central decision- systems requires guts.

Transparency in Results

And finally the team members must be able to clearly see whether their activities resulted in success: yes or no. A measuring system will have to be implemented making results transparent.

A common Misconception

There is one retaining misunderstanding about the ‘Total Productive Maintenance’ philosophy that needs clarification: It is not a support system. ‘Maintenance’ means maintaining the system of cooperation between planning, production and maintenance to achieve greater productivity of the existing capacity. Therefore ‘Total Productive Maintenance’ also is called ‘Total Productive Management’ or ‘Total Productive Manufacturing’.

Total Productive Maintenance: the necessity of a systematic approach.

Mr. Nakajima has indicated that seven steps must be set to successfully start implementing Total Productive Maintenance, being:

  1. Clean the machine.
  2. Take measures to tackle the causes and the results of dust, oil and dirt.
  3. Develop standards and procedures for cleaning and oiling.
  4. Train employees to be effective inspectors.
  5. Set-up inspection lists that will enable production employees to keep the machines in optimum condition.
  6. Develop standards and procedures to organize the workfloor (including safety, health, order and cleanness).
  7. Implement a totally autonomous maintenance system.

Masterclass Mr. Nakajima 2006

Find here a rare recording of Mr Nakajima, -the founding father of TPM- at age 83, giving a masterclass on TPM in Tokyo in 2006. 

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