Driving continuous improvement

We have the same equipment as our competitors, said Tom Zawacki, general manager, general administration, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Inc., Kentucky (TMMK). “We use the same raw materials. They come from the same suppliers.” “When people come here, they ask, 'What’s that silver bullet? What’s that thing that makes Toyota different?’” added Rick Hesterbe...

By Jack Smith, Senior Editor December 1, 2006

We have the same equipment as our competitors, said Tom Zawacki, general manager, general administration, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Inc., Kentucky (TMMK). “We use the same raw materials. They come from the same suppliers.”

“When people come here, they ask, ‘What’s that silver bullet? What’s that thing that makes Toyota different?’” added Rick Hesterberg, assistant manager of media relations at TMMK.

“The key is our people — they are the real key to our success. We have intelligent, flexible, highly motivated people that have a voice in what they do,” Zawacki said. “Through the Continuous Improvement process we expect our team members to walk through those doors in the morning thinking ‘what can I do differently today, better today, than I did yesterday,’ to help make this company stronger. And that’s the mindset that allows Toyota to be successful in North America and throughout the world.”

And successful it is. Some of TMMK’s recent achievements include:

  • Produced the best selling car in America for eight out of the last nine years

  • Earned 10 J.D. Power Quality Plant Awards since 1987 — four of them are Gold Awards

  • Motor Trend named the Camry its Car of the Year

  • Number One Plant in North America for productivity by the Harbour Report

  • Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America’s Environmental Awards in all five areas: energy reduction, zero landfill, toxic chemical reduction, water use reduction and air emission reduction

  • Kentucky Governor’s Company of the Year Award

  • EPA Energy Star Partner of the Year two years in a row

  • PLANT ENGINEERING ’s Top Plant for 2006.

    • The Toyota Way

      The two business principles of the Toyota Way philosophy is respect for people and Continuous Improvement. The underlying tenet is simple: do the right thing for the company, its people, the customer and society as a whole. Toyota’s philosophical mission is the foundation of all its other principles.

      “Toyota Way is what we do every day out on the floor and the Toyota Production System is what drives it,” said John Poff, assistant manager, general assembly at TMMK. “It’s the machine that’s inside that makes you do what you do: standardization, Just-in-Time, Kaizen, 5s and other elements of TPS that differentiate Toyota from other manufacturers.”

      Toyota’s philosophy can be found in every aspect of its famous Toyota Production System. Developed between 1945 and 1970, TPS is still evolving today. It is the legendary methodology that gave birth to Total Productive Maintenance and Lean Manufacturing.

      Zawacki said the foundation of TPS is standardized work, meaning you fix the rule, and you follow the rule. Then you try to improve the rule with kaizen — a Japanese word for “continuous improvement.”

      The primary goal of TPS is to eliminate muda, the Japanese word for waste. TPS targets seven kinds of waste: overproduction, motion, waiting, conveyance, processing, inventory and correction — or rework.

      The pillars that support TPS are Jidoka and Just-in-Time. Jidoka is quality at the source. “It means we prevent defects from flowing to the next process,” said Zawacki.

      U.S. suppliers had a lot to learn about inventory, according to Zawacki. “A lot of suppliers that came to us 20 years ago when we were first establishing our supply base would say, ‘We know you like JIT delivery, so we’re going to have a warehouse next door, and we’re going to store 30 days of inventory.’ It took a long time for us to educate many of our suppliers. That’s not what JIT delivery means. It means JIT manufacturing. And then you “can deliver Just-in-Time.”

      The Georgetown facility is set up as a Global Production Center to train its own team members as well as team members from other Toyota plants. “We have become fairly proficient manufacturers over the past 20 years,” Zawacki said. “We have become the mother plant for several of the new facilities in North America.”

      “We actually train other facilities in TPS here,” said Poff. “This teaches the team members the finer points of correct safety and methods to install parts. We train our team members, and we also have groups come here from other facilities to be trained. So we can teach them, ‘this is how you put these bolts on; this is how you make this connection; this is how you set this part.’”

      “We’re able to help start up other Toyota plants in North America,” continued Zawacki. “We helped launch the Indiana facility, the West Virginia facility, the Alabama facility, the Baja California facility. We’re helping to get our joint-venture with Subaru up and running, in Lafayette, IN. We are helping them develop that self-sufficiency that we have already developed ourselves.”

      The Toyota Way is much more than a collection of improvement and efficiency procedures. It’s a culture that depends on the mindset and efforts of every team member to reduce inventory, identify problems and to eliminate waste with a sense of determination, purpose and teamwork. TPS can be imitated; the Toyota Way cannot. It must evolve over many years.

      TMMK’s process

      Toyota broke ground for the plant in 1986. When the first car produced there — a white Camry — rolled off the line in May of 1988, little did they know that 20 years later TMMK would be producing more than 2,000 cars a day there.

      Trucks bring in coils of steel and an overhead conveyor moves them to where they are staged by dimensions, weights and gauges. From there to the finished product, “it takes a little more than 20 hours to build a Camry, Avalon or Solara,” Hesterberg said.

      Coiled steel gets uncoiled, washed and blanked (or cut) into different parts and stacked ready for stamping. Forklifts take them to where they are staged, ready to go to the press line.

      After stamping, parts are stacked into what TMMK employees call a Minomi system: identical parts are nested and stacked, taking advantage of their shapes. Minomi minimizes wasted motion, scratches and scrap. Hesterberg said TMMK developed the Minomi system in 2004.

      “Used to be, you’d see a bunch of parts crammed into a big metal rack, which is taken to the line, and team members pull them out. But now they’re staged, where every part is accounted for on every car that’s going to be built,” he said.

      Individual body parts from stamping are joined in the body weld area. Hundreds of robots do more than 90% of the car body welding. A complete car body shell emerges from body weld and is transported by conveyor to the paint shop, where it spends 9-

      Some companies paint multiple cars in batches before changing colors, but TMMK does not. “We’re flexible enough to where if you order a red one and I order a blue one, we’ll produce them in that order. We make them and paint them in the order that they (orders) come from the dealerships,” said Hesterberg.

      After the car body shells are painted and cured, they go to assembly. Assembly consists chassis and final lines. Cars get engines in the chassis area, a process that people at TMMK call ‘engine marriage.’ “We use a hydraulic lift to bring the engine from underneath the car, as opposed to hoisting them overhead,” Hesterberg said. “It’s a lot less stress on the engine; less stress on the workers; and it’s a better fit — more consistency.”

      Engines are manufactured onsite in a facility next door to the main assembly plants — Plant 1 and Plant 2. “We also have an engine plant in Buffalo, WV. They (also) do our transmissions,” explained Hesterberg.

      With the equivalent of 156 football fields under one roof, assembly is by far the largest area in the plant. Cars advance up one line and down another. Although there appear to be multiple parallel production lines, a vehicle transfer mechanism and a buffer, which holds six to nine car bodies, connect each one, making one continuous production line with well-thought-out sections.

      Andon cords hang overhead on both sides of each line section. When a team member sees a problem, he or she pulls the cord. Andon means ‘little sign.’ But here, pulling the andon cord causes a light to flash, an annunciator to illuminate and a cheerful song to play — scales, triads or even a song from Beethoven. Andon alerts the team leader that a team member has found a problem. Rather than pass that problem on to the next process in the line, or eventually to the customer, the team member, team leader or both have a certain amount of time to correct the problem before the line actually stops. Most of the time, problems are resolved before a line stop occurs. But if it does stop, the transfer buffers at the end of each line section keep processes downstream moving. An andon cord gets pulled every few minutes somewhere in the factory. Jidoka prevents these problems from flowing to the next process.

      “We monitor the facility through our information portals,” Poff said. “By looking at andon reporting systems I can tell how each line is running. I can understand how much downtime they’ve had; I can understand where their actual issues are. If I click on the information portal for Trim 1, it will show me process-by-process — based on the andon number — what the actual condition is in real time.

      “We can look at hourly status; I can look at current defect level. If there is a problem, I can go into any of the kiosks, type in a message and tell the management team above me exactly what’s wrong in real time.”

      The ‘just enough’ mindset extends to TMMK’s application of automation. “When people talk about automation, a lot of folks have the wrong impression,” Zawacki said. “A lot of folks think that a state-of-the-art plant means it is highly automated. That may be true at some manufacturers, but we don’t automate for the sake of automation. We automate when a job is not safe; when the job requires greater precision; or it can be done at a higher level of quality than a human hand could do it — when it makes sense to for the productivity of the job.”

      Toyota Automotive

      Georgetown, KY

      By the numbers:

      Square footage : 6,300,000 square feet

      Number of employees : 7,000

      Number of shifts : Two production shifts, one maintenance shift

      Products produced : Camry, Camry Hybrid, Avalon and Solara

      Plant opened : 1988

      Plant history:

      TMMK : broke ground in 1986, commissioned in 1988, most recent major expansion in 1996.

      More at www.plantengineering.com…

      Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Inc. has much more to celebrate than its 20-year anniversary in Georgetown, KY. There is more to the story than you see here. Toyota has a long history of quality, Continuous Improvement and philosophies that have changed the way manufacturers worldwide do business. Go to

      Toyota Georgetown, Kentucky —

      Lean Enterprise Institute —