Uptime: Remembering The Father of TPM

Bob Williamson | June 12, 2015

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) was first developed in 1969 in Japan at Nippon Denso Co. (now Denso Corp., Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan), part of Toyota Motors, under the leadership of Mr. Seiichi Nakajima of the Japan Institute of Plant Maintenance (JIPM), Tokyo. TPM was further developed and refined in Japan during the following decade, and reached America in the mid-1980s.

On April 11, 2015, Mr. Nakajima, the “Father of TPM,” who brought us his passionate vision and methods, died at age 96. This month, I would like to pay tribute to him by sharing some of his life and wisdom as my TPM sensei.

A life’s work

Mr. Nakajima worked for more than a half century as a maintenance and TPM consultant and teacher. During the rebuilding of Japan following World War II, he visited the U.S. to study maintenance methods. After studying American-style preventive maintenance, Mr. Nakajima introduced Productive Maintenance (PM), the predecessor of TPM, to Japan in 1951.

I met Mr. Nakajima almost 40 years later in his intensive “Introduction to TPM” workshop. While his bilingual teaching method, with the aid of an interpreter, seemed cumbersome at first, it afforded plenty of time to make copious notes. These original notes, and learning from Mr. Nakajima’s lectures over the subsequent five years, gave me many insights to what TPM was intended to be and do.

A press release about Mr. Nakajima’s death from JMA Consultants Inc. (affiliated with the JIPM), Englewood Cliffs, NJ, stated, “Without his remarkable effort, TPM and the manufacturing industry would not have been what it is today.” It called his establishment of the PM Awards (the current TPM Awards), one of his most significant achievements. The first PM Awards winner with TPM methodology was Denso in 1971, the year in which most consider TPM to have originated.

The release added that Mr. Nakajima’s achievement was also honored by the Emperor of Japan, who presented him with the Ranju Ho-sho, or Medal with Blue Ribbon. The award recognizes individuals with significant lifetime achievements, and was given to Mr. Nakajima by the Emperor “to show gratitude for the dedication to improving the manufacturing industry through TPM.”

Mr. Seiichi Nakajima, the father of TPM, who passed away in April 2015, made an impressive contribution to manufacturing excellence.

Mr. Seiichi Nakajima, the father of TPM, who passed away in April 2015, made an impressive contribution to manufacturing excellence.

Toyota Production System

The renowned Toyota Production System (TPS) and other key industrial strategies from Japan owe much to Mr. Nakajima and TPM. Taiichi Ohno, who developed the TPS and Kanban in the 1970s, and Shigeo Shingo, a Toyota industrial engineer in the 1960s and 1970s who contributed to TPS (and other strategies), have cited Mr. Nakajima for his foundational work in the area of eliminating equipment breakdowns. As Shingo wrote in A Study of the Toyota Production System (1981), “To approach the ideal of non-stock production [single-piece flow], eliminate breakdowns and defects by detecting and responding to their causes.”

And in Toyota Production System (1978), Ohno stated that, “Toyota’s strength does not come from its healing process—it comes from preventive maintenance.”

Ohno and Shingo saw that TPM was the answer to eliminating equipment-related waste (or losses) and achieving the goal of uninterrupted production flow that could not be addressed by traditional maintenance approaches. Seiichi Nakajima proved over and over that TPM is the equipment side of TPS (and lean manufacturing). Unfortunately, Mr. Nakajima and his TPM principles are often overlooked by many of today’s “lean thinkers” as they work to adapt the principles of the TPS to their journeys of continuous improvement.

Words of wisdom

During my steep TPM learning curve in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Seiichi Nakajima provided many nuggets of wisdom worth sharing:

• “Just-in-time manufacturing—Toyota’s Production System—could not exist without TPM. Trouble-free equipment leads to uninterrupted flow, improved quality, reduced waste, and lower costs.”
• “According to its creator, Taiichi Ohno, the Toyota Production System is based on absolute elimination of waste. The purpose of TPM is to eliminate the six big losses. This corresponds to the absolute elimination of waste in the Toyota Production System. In striving for zero breakdowns, TPM promotes defect-free production, just-in-time production, and automation. It is safe to say that without TPM, the Toyota Production System could not function.” 1
• “Maximizing equipment effectiveness requires complete elimination of failures, defects, and other negative phenomena—in other words, the wastes and losses incurred in equipment operation.”
• “TPM grew out of the principles of ‘American-style preventive maintenance’ from the 1950s, with ‘Japanese-style productive maintenance’ of the 1960s, and the principles of ‘Total Quality Management’s’ and ‘small-group problem solving,’ also from the 1960s.”
• “TPM is not a maintenance program. Rather, TPM is a company-wide program for improving equipment effectiveness—something maintenance alone could not do. When TPM came to America, we realized we probably made a mistake calling it Total Productive Maintenance. Probably should have been Total Productive Manufacturing.”
• “Americans will struggle with TPM because they expect equipment to break down and that the maintenance group will fix it. The goal of ‘zero equipment breakdowns’ is being received with skepticism and even denial in many companies. And yet, these same companies have goals of zero defects and zero accidents.”
• “The word ‘Total’ in TPM has these meanings: total effectiveness—pursuit of economic efficiency or profitability; total PM—maintenance prevention and activity to improve maintainability as well as preventive maintenance; and total participation—autonomous maintenance by operators and small group activities in every department at every level.” 2
• Regarding the Pillars of TPM: “Culturally, Japanese and Americans are very different: Japan has always been a highly interdependent country and culture, while Americans are highly independent. The Pillars of TPM are interdependent in that they rely on each other rather than stand alone.”
• “Overall Equipment Effectiveness (O.E.E.) percentages should only be used to compare equipment to itself over time, never to compare different equipment or equipment running different products.”

Thank you Mr. Nakajima for building the foundation for what should be the most strategically important equipment-maintenance approach today and well into the foreseeable future. It is an honor to have known you.


1. Nakajima, Seiichi, Introduction to Total Productive Maintenance, 1984 Japan, 1988 Productivity Press, out of print.

2. Nakajima, Seiichi (editor), TPM Development Program: Implementing Total Productive Maintenance, 1982 JIPM; 1989 Productivity Press, out of print.



Bob Williamson

Sign up for insights, trends, & developments in
  • Machinery Solutions
  • Maintenance & Reliability Solutions
  • Energy Efficiency
Return to top