Poka-Yoke Meaning, Importance, and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 20, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The manufacturing industry can practice standardization techniques to prevent defects or errors. Poka-yoke is one technique that can help minimize human errors at work. Learning about this method can help you forecast potential errors and apply steps to prevent them at work. In this article, we discuss poka-yoke meaning and its origin, highlight why it's essential, assess when to employ it, analyze how to execute it, and provide poka-yoke examples.

Poka-yoke meaning and origin

The poka-yoke meaning and origin are from Japan. Poka-yoke (PO-ka-yo-kay) originated in the Toyota production system in the 1960s. It's a Japanese word that translates to “to avoid unintentional errors.” Poka-yoke is a concept or process of setting measures to prevent mistakes beforehand. A manufacturer can use poka-yoke to minimize or eliminate errors that can cause defects or disrupt production. As a consumer, you can encounter poka-yoke when you see a company using measures that anticipate potential errors and focus on product safety.

Why poka-yoke is important

Companies may use poka-yoke to ensure a product or process works right the first time. It can eliminate mistakes and defects in procedures and products to increase quality and reliability. The poka-yoke approach can sustain a continuous improvement culture in a company. It can also help eliminate both mechanical and human errors. Poka-yoke is a flexible approach that can help the company adopt cost-efficient processes.

It can be a practical step to help the company minimize legal liabilities, product recalls, and loss of customer base. Poka-yoke can also help the company reduce waste from errors and the training period because the trainees can save time by analyzing potential mistakes in a process.

Related: What Is Process Improvement and How Can You Utilize It?

When to use poka-yoke

Manufacturers can apply the poka-yoke concept to various production process points. You can focus efforts on situations where a mistake is more likely to occur. Some points to use poka-yoke include:

Early production steps

Various errors can occur in the early stages of production. For example, there may be missing parts, set-up or measurement errors. A mistake in the early stages can cause an error in the entire process. Poka-yoke in the early stages of production can be crucial to the outcome of the product.

Product design

You can apply poka-yoke during product design to ensure the brand can fulfil the functions it promises to users. Poka-yoke during product design can encourage companies to adopt distinct policy tactics to prevent damage.

Related: How to Become a Product Design Engineer (With Average Salary)

Transfer of responsibilities

A company's process can have various transfer points where there is a transfer of responsibilities. An example of a transfer point is when a manager assigns responsibility to an employee. Poka-yoke can help solve errors during these points, such as communication errors.

How to use poka-yoke

After researching poka-yoke meaning, here is a general guide to how you can implement it:

1. Create a step-by-step flowchart of the process

The first step to implementing poka-yoke is to visualize your project using a chart that shows the process of operations. Ensure the chart covers the entire scope of your operations. Conduct detailed analysis to consider every action, including basic functions and logistics. A scope chart can be helpful in the manufacturing and consumer products industries.

Related: Six of the Most Common System Design Interview Questions

2. Analyze the process to check for potential errors

Analyze the process to identify areas that may confuse someone or are prone to errors. It's beneficial to write down all the tasks involved in the activity. Here are different methods you can use:

  • Reverse analysis: Analyze the process backwards to get another perspective. You can easily ask yourself questions that can lead you to find areas that may cause defects.

  • Controlled testing: A test environment can help you analyze human errors. To identify potential errors, you can monitor each individual's actions and assess their skills, such as attention to detail.

  • Contact method: The contact method can be ideal for identifying potential defects in products. It can test a product's physical attributes, like size, shape, and colour, to assess defects.

  • Sequence or motion-step method: This method can help identify errors because of missing a step. The sequence method retraces every step of the process to determine which one you may have skipped.

  • Constant number or fixed-value method: This method is similar to the sequence method. It assesses the process for a specific number of movements and alerts you if they are less.

3. Prevent potential errors

Once you identify potential errors, you can set up various measures to prevent them. They can be general measures or measures specific to the business. An example of how a manufacturer can prevent errors is through regular scheduling of maintenance for machines to avoid defects. Other prevention methods include setting up safety measures, revising various instructions, or using a technological fail-safe system. You can also rely on inspections to prevent potential errors. There are multiple types of inspections you can apply in a process, including:

  • Successive inspections: This is an inspection an organization executes at the next step of the process. The employees in the next step are responsible for a successive inspection.

  • Self-inspections: These are inspections you can conduct in your work. It can help to do them upon completion.

  • Source inspection: A source inspection is an inspection you execute before you take a step. They're often automatic and prevent a step from starting until the company meets all the necessary conditions.

4. Identify ways to minimize the effects of potential errors

Errors can still occur even if you have measures in place to prevent them. It's important to identify measures that can help you control the impact of potential errors. For example, you can prepare an emergency response or first aid protocol if it's a safety error.

5. Use measures to notify you when an error occurs

It can help the company's future operations by employing measures to notify you when an error occurs. You can use two types of signals or regulatory functions to know whenever one happens, such as warning or control functions. Warning functions are sensory signals to alert you when an error occurs. The signals can include bells, lights, or buzzers. Control functions are signals that prevent the process from continuing until you correct the error. They can also prevent the process from starting until you meet all the necessary conditions.

6. Test all your solutions

As you develop solutions to prevent, control, and notify you when errors occur, it's beneficial to test all these solutions to ensure they work. The tests can also help you avoid assumptions and identify if the solutions have any complications. If any of your solutions have potential errors, analyze them using the poka-yoke process.

Examples of poka-yoke

Here are some examples of the use of poka-yoke:

Quality assurance

Here is an example of the use of poka-yoke to guarantee the quality of a product:

A manufacturer's machine may require specific calibrations to manufacture products without defects. The manufacturer can use software that lets the machine start only when the calibrations are correct to prevent defects from using the wrong calibrations. The manufacturer can manually check the areas where the calibrations may be wrong to reduce defects.

Related: How to Become a Certified Quality Engineer (With Steps)

Product change

Here is an example of using poka-yoke to introduce a product change:

A microwave test shows the product may release too much heat and run even when the door is open. The manufacturer conducts a poka-yoke analysis and shows that microwaves can risk users' safety and affect the product's lifespan. It requires significant changes in the manufacturing process to avoid these defects, such as adding sensors to turn the microwave off when you open the door. The manufacturer changes the entire design of the microwave. After the change, tests show that the microwave heats food at a moderate rate and can switch off when you open the door.

Complex processes

Here is an example using poka-yoke to address complex processes:

A car manufacturer constantly finds flaws in a car during the final stages of assembly. The company carries out a poka-yoke analysis to determine the cause of the defects. They discover the defects come from communication errors between the assembly teams. The company groups the assembly teams into larger categories with a coordinator to minimize communication errors. They also use a checklist to monitor the transfer of responsibilities and minimize transfer point errors.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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