Inside Toyota

Posted on 17 Nov 2009 by The Manufacturer

Mark Young travels to the Toyota factory in Burnaston, Derby, for one of the firm's TPS seminar days

The day starts with an opening address by Carl Klemm MBE, deputy managing director of TMUK who provides an introduction to the company to delegates from Denmark, Ireland, Norway, the US and from across the UK. Two keynote talks follow; the first by production operations director Marvin Cooke and the second by quality assurance assistant general manger Mick Lalley. Delegates are then given a tow-train tour through one of two production line shops at the site before returning for a third keynote by human resource general manager Jim Crosbie. After lunch, a workshop of the delegate’s choosing is completed on kaizen, practical problem solving or visual control. The day ends with a Q&A featuring all of the morning’s speakers.

Toyota Seminar

To accurately regale the full experience of my day at Toyota would fill a volume, so for brevity’s sake, I’ll stick to simple adjectives. ‘Eye opening’ instantly springs to mind. Business theories are easily fawned over and until they are seen in practice there will always be sceptics who dismiss them as fables. I hadn’t doubted the truth behind all I had read about Toyota Production System, but I would never have imagined the extent to which it is completely ingrained into everything the company does. Even the training room we were in had a 5S checklist for end-of-session procedures.

The keynote addresses provide invaluable insights into the history and logic behind TPS and how the values developed over the last 40 years are applied to both the business of making cars and the business of nurturing people. But these insights only truly take on their weight when they are seen applied in practice, through the line tour and workshop.

How Burnaston works

The Burnaston site has two assembly lines, each currently handling around 200 cars per shift. The first makes the Auris model and operates on day shifts only, the second makes both the Auris and the Avensis simultaneously and operates day and night. A new electric version of the Auris will be factored in from 2010. On our tour around the Auris line it was enthralling to see the principle of just-in-time in action.

Toyota Line

Workers and robots beaver away side-by-side to ensure that every single task happens exactly when it is scheduled to, between a 7:30am to 3:48pm shift. Automated kanbans synchronise seamlessly with the travelling chassis. All of the favourite ice cream van hits play out across the line to denote certain stages of action or calls-to-arms. If you’re not mesmerised yet just try and take in as much of the multitude of quality control sheets, best practice instruction, KPI updates and other documentation that accompanies the length of the line.

Toyota Line

Opting for the practical problem solving workshop, I soon learned that a problem does not hold the same connotations for Toyota as it does for the rest of us. The word ‘problem’ should probably be replaced by ‘opportunity’. The company embraces ‘problems’; it actively seeks them out. Each member of staff completes problem solving training over several months which involves identifying and implementing real improvements to processes. The company has built a standard eight-step model which is used for identifying the root cause of a problem, the ‘containment’ (its temporary solution), and the countermeasure to fix it. By this standardisation, every single member is able to feed into the improvement of the production process; everybody makes a difference. After my two hour workshop, during which I heard all the reasoning behind keeping every member of staff truly engaged, I was surprised to find myself feeling slightly melancholy that I will never begin the process myself.

Teaching the truth about TPS

One of TMUK’s event organisers, Karen Bradley, explains that one of the main reasons why TMUK decided to open its doors is to give lean enthusiasts a real insight of how TPS operates today at Toyota, rather than the quasi- or modified versions of it that are taught by some consultants.

“Because of its very nature, TPS is evolving all the time,” she said. “To teach it you really have to have learned it firsthand but, even then, many of the former Toyota engineers now working for leading consultants were last employed here perhaps 10 years ago. The knowledge they are passing on is therefore not TPS, it is a shadow of TPS. We just wanted to give people a true insight of the culture as it is right now.”

I have no trepidation in labelling the TMUK factory the Disney World of manufacturing. I’d even offer that any quality manager visiting the former would find the experience more fascinating than would any 5-year old at the latter. My advice – Genchi Genbutsu – go and see for yourself!

Delegates’ views

Kieran Noonan – Value stream manager for medical product manufacturer Boston Scientific’s Ireland site:

“My role is to make people understand that there is a real, efficient way of manufacturing that will support the medical device manufacturing industry going forward . So I brought a team over today to expose them to it. Watching my guys carrying out the tasks today I saw a level of excitement and engagement which I haven’t seen in years and there’s now a huge level of excitement to get back to the factory and try and implement some if the initiatives. We’ve come away with thousands of ideas today; concepts that we’ve thought about previously but only seen come to life here. It’s shown us that yes, we have made huge gains through implementing Lean Manufacturing, but there are so many more things we can do and we’ll now go back to our senior leadership team and decide which ones to go with.

“I was hugely impressed with the people. We had a line tour with a demonstration of a problem solving issue and the member of staff that took it displayed a level of knowledge, passion and engagement which we haven’t experienced before. They really understand the process and exude confidence that you wouldn’t usually get in a team leader with 20 years experience.”

Tina Nielson – Lean change agent for global apparel brand ECCO Shoes:

“Toyota is our inspiration so naturally there’s much to see, much to learn. What I was looking most forward to seeing was the production itself and seeing if it all works like how you read in the books. And it was absolutely the same, which surprised me a little. Production was quiet, even for a car factory, and everything flows according to takt time. But what most surprised me was the people and the problem solving; the fact that they actually effectively use the end-line calls. This is a something we are struggling to implement because usually it is not nice for people to say they have a problem. Overall, coming today has reinforced to me that the theories really can work in practice.”

Two more seminar days are scheduled for this year. The next one on November 23 is fully booked but there are spaces available for the final one on December 8. Call Mandy-Jayne Evans on 01332 283613 or email her at [email protected] to reserve a place.