Streamlined Production -- At the reimagined and reengineered TMMK, automated guided vehicles move engines down a subassembly line.
In 2011, Akio Toyoda outlined a new global vision for Toyota — forged in the crucible of the company’s recall crisis the year before. Toyota Motor Corporation’s president said that if we hoped to move past those dark days toward a brighter future, then — as an organization — we needed to be “reborn.”
That was the moment of conception.
Now? We’re just about ready for the delivery.
“’Toyota Reborn’ is a mindset put into motion by Akio,” says Brian Krinock, senior vice president at Toyota manufacturing. “It’s about reimagining what this company is about and how it develops and makes its products. It’s about maintaining competitiveness by reinvesting in our facilities, equipment and most importantly our people. Six years into it, we’re really starting to see Akio’s vision take tangible form.”
Krinock’s perspective is an important one. He oversees operations at Toyota’s plants throughout North America. As such, he has a front-row seat on this transformation — quite literally on the nuts-and-bolts level.
Bumper Crop -- TMMK's new plastics shop can churn out parts, such as these bumpers, in 30 seconds or less. From here, they flow directly to the paint shop and then to the main assembly line.
Our New Kentucky Home
That includes what’s taking place at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky (TMMK), the company’s first U.S. plant and — with expansions over the years — its largest. This year, it will begin assembling the all-new 2018 Camry that will be the first Toyota vehicle made in North America based on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA).
TNGA is an integrated approach to the development of powertrain components and vehicle platforms. It promises to give rise to products that ride better, drive better, handle better and look better with improved fuel efficiency and collision performance. Further, TNGA will allow Toyota to build more models on common platforms that use common parts, thus making it possible to more fully leverage its supply chain. That should lower costs while making the company’s manufacturing plants more flexible and responsive to changes in the marketplace.
“It’s like when you throw a pebble in the water. Over time, it makes waves,” says Krinock. “Akio initiated this change. Now the ripple effect is starting to show up in the hardware.”
The signs are everywhere at TMMK. Krinock cited a few examples:
Subassembly Area -- Team members assemble instrument panels off the main assembly line, a fundamental shift from the flow at TMMK when the plant opened 30 years ago.
- Shift toward subassembly — When the plant opened 30 years ago, some components — such as instrument panels — were made on the main assembly line. Now more are being fashioned in subassembly areas, making it easier to accommodate multiple models along the same line. And parts and finished goods are now moved by automated guided vehicles, further streamlining production.
Cowl Welds -- Lighter and more fuel efficient vehicles require the use of new materials which, in turn, require the use of new stamping and bonding processes -- such as these cowl weld robots.
- New plastics shop — For improved quality and efficiency, TMMK has invested in new technology that can churn out parts in 30 seconds or less. These parts flow directly to the paint shop and then to the main assembly line.
- New paint shop — When it opens within the next two years, this high-tech facility will improve efficiency in both productivity and material usage, such as reducing the use of volatile organic compounds that can be detrimental to the environment.
- 3D printing — Parts modifications are a way of life in manufacturing. Previously, it took up to five weeks to make design changes on a new part and produce a prototype for trials. Now, thanks to 3D printing technology, that process can be turned around in just 24 hours. And it can be carried out by team members on the plant floor.
- New stamping technology — In the push to make vehicles lighter and more fuel efficient, Toyota has begun using a wider array of materials such as aluminum and high-strength steel. That’s led to the development of proprietary stamping processes as well as innovative ways to bond these materials together, including fiber optic welds and newly formulated adhesives that reduce weight while increasing body rigidity.
“Everything we’re doing in Kentucky will apply to all of our other North American plants in one form or another,” says Krinock. “But it’s less about the specifics and more about the shift in mindset. All of our North America plants are working as one team through our Shop Self Reliance (SSR) initiatives and are pulling forward issues with One-Voice.”
“Take, for example, what’s happened in San Antonio (at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas),” he continues. “Originally, that plant only produced the Tundra. Then, a few years ago, we changed our processes so we could make the smaller Tacoma on the same line. We originally thought that wasn’t possible. But we found a way. That’s what this reborn mindset is all about.”
Suspended Animation -- In another example of the shift toward subassembly areas, team members ready front suspension components for delivery to the main line.
The Full Enchilada
Toyoda’s vision will cascade across North America through future model and powertrain changes, coming to full fruition in 2019 when Corollas begin rolling off the assembly line in Guanajuato, Mexico. That’s where Toyota is investing approximately $1 billion in what will be the first plant in the world designed from the ground up with TNGA production engineering technologies in mind.
Krinock’s focus is on manufacturing, so it’s only natural that he views this time of change through that lens. But he recognizes that making vehicles is just one of the many facets of “Toyota Reborn.”
“Manufacturing is a key part of the change,” he says. “So is the new corporate headquarters in Plano and the move toward One Toyota. Our investment in hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric vehicles is another sign, as are our investments in robotics, artificial intelligence, big data and mobility technology. The next generation Camry we revealed in Detroit last week is a tangible example of the ‘Reborn Initiative.’ We’re reinventing the company. That’s the big picture.”
By Dan Miller