The Toyota Tonero – A TPS Story

Posted on 30 Oct 2008 by The Manufacturer

The Toyota production system teaches that delivering greater value to the customer is of prime importance in the development of any product. Dave Moore from Toyota Material Handling examines how this affected the development of the new Toyota Tonero

The Toyota production system (TPS) permeates every operation at the Toyota plants but it is far more than just an efficient manufacturing practice. It stems from the wider philosophy of the ‘Toyota Way’ – a set of guiding beliefs and behaviours that define Toyota’s success.

At the heart of the Toyota Way lies the belief that people and their ability to innovate and meet challenges are the driving force of the business. Couple this with a commitment to the process of kaizen, continuously seeking to improve a process, and it is easy to see how Toyota has developed as a learning organisation, constantly seeking new ways of doing things, and rigorously testing these methods to determine their value before standardising best practice so it becomes the new baseline ready to be improved
upon once more.

Developed over time by Toyota founder Sakichi Toyoda and his son Kiichiro Toyoda among others, the familiar TPS tools including flow, jidoka, just in time, genchi genbutsu and the elimination of muda (waste) all stem from this culture of learning and are deployed to support the delivery of products that continue Toyota’s reputation for world beating quality.

The new Toyota Tonero forklift is an excellent example of this tradition, where genchi genbutsu, or going to the source to establish the facts, took the Toyota development
team on a journey round Europe to establish exactly what was valued by their customers.

A new flagship product
Launched in late 2007, the Tonero is the flagship of the Toyota forklift range. It came to market at a critical time for the newly merged Toyota Material Handling organisation, renewing the firm’s commitment to maintaining its global number one position in the
materials handling market.

Toyota always strives to produce its products close to the customers who will buy them to ensure a close match with the specific needs of the market.

The Toyota plant at Ancenis in France offered the right combination of resource and expertise to successfully deliver the project, while being centrally located to understand and serve the European market.

Toyota set itself a great challenge in the design of the Tonero, to set new standards for forklift design and performance not just in one or two features but across five key areas that European customer research had determined as key. The Tonero represented the evolution of everything Toyota has learnt about forklift design and
the requirements of its market.

Genchi genbutsu – go to the source
Toyota doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel with each new product. Instead it systematically applies the proven principles of TPS, building on the lessons learned from
previous trucks.

The first step in delivering the Tonero to the European market was an extensive process of customer research. Genchi genbutsu teaches the practices of going to the source to establish the facts – in this case hundreds of forklift users across Europe – to determine current priorities and challenges. Getting a clear fact-based picture of the customer’s requirement is essential to building the production process as it is through this assessment that the values of the product can be defined.

Once the value is defined, the production process can be refined to eliminate areas that do not add to the value, in other words muda or waste.

Formula for success: buyer + operator + operating environment
Development research focused on three key areas to gain a total picture of the marketplace:

– The buying group
– The operator
– The operating environment

The research identified key areas that fleet managers considered critical to their operators and businesses. They wanted innovative features to make the truck as safe as possible and comfortable for operators to use even in intensive operations. They were keen to see a truck that was highly durable and would keep downtime to a minimum. Increasingly organisations were also insisting that all stages of the product life cycle had
minimal impact on the environment.

But the challenge was clear to the design team: they had to deliver on all these benefits without compromising the productivity of the truck. Customers were still, at the end
of the day, looking for an effective tool to do a job.

Considering the operating environment
A forklift truck is a dynamic piece of equipment, travelling over a variety of surfaces, capable of being loaded in many different ways and crucially driven by a human being
who can be momentarily distracted or affected by fatigue.

It was only by considering all these operating factors in combination that improvements could be identified.

Businesses around Europe described an increased pressure to make their operations as productive as possible, moving the maximum number of pallets for the lowest cost each shift. Operators were making frequent changes of direction and often moving in limited spaces between racking and in the back of lorries. Toyota identified opportunities to increase productivity for these environments without compromising on safety.

The shape of the instrument panel and overhead guard was examined to give the Tonero class leading visibility in all directions, particularly across the forks, when travelling,
with the forks raised and critically when the forks were held at lorry bed height. Once again smart design has improved safety hand-in-hand with productivity, allowing operators who made frequent changes of direction to have an unobstructed view in the direction of travel.

The design team created ergonomic controls with an intuitive automobile style layout to support operators during increasingly intensive shifts. Noise and vibration levels were also reduced to among the lowest in the industry to help reduce fatigue for operators.
The truck itself was equipped with a heavy duty steel chassis to help it withstand tough operating environments.Electrical components were enclosed for protection from dust and water. This met the needs of fleet buyers for increased durability and low lifetime costs.

Toyota believed that the Tonero would become one of the most productive forklifts available, with a range of powerful engines, developed specially for the materials
handling market generated class leading cycle times, allowing more pallets to be moved per shift, with the resulting reduction in fuel and staffing costs.

Environmental impact
Across Europe, many businesses were indicating an increased awareness of environmental issues and expressing a desire to work with their suppliers to source equipment that was in line with their environmental commitments.

All Toyota Material Handling products are made with careful consideration for resource and energy conservation and ease of recycling and decomposition, taking every aspect of the product’s life cycle into consideration. Implementing ISO 14001 certification in
the parts supply chain is an additional step to strengthen and safeguard environmental management throughout the manufacturing process.

Toyota was determined to understand and reduce the environmental impact of the Tonero as far as possible, making this a key objective of the design and production process. Constituent parts and processes were examined to reduce harmful substances. Improved battery and electronic technology eliminated cadmium, lead and mercury, while a change in the paint process eliminated hexavalent chromium, all of which are known to have a long-term detrimental effect on the environment.

The Tonero also exceeds the new European Directive 97/68/EC Stage IIIa emissions regulations that will take effect in 2008, with carbon monoxide and particulate
emissions dropping to more than 50 per cent below the minimum requirement.
Considering the whole life of the truck, the design of individual parts was examined to make them easier to separate back into their constituent parts ready for easy recycling once the truck reached the end of its working life. Through careful design the Tonero is over 99 per cent recyclable at the end of its life.

Customisation vs standardisation
Standardisation of parts and processes allows Toyota to deliver a high quality truck that offers customers good value. However, the customer research carried out highlighted the diversity of the customer base and suggested a need to tailor the truck to better match the specific requirements of each individual organisation.

The design team devised a suite of options allowing customers to select packages of factory fitted options that would improve the performance of the truck in the areas that customers identified as key to their business: safety, productivity, comfort, durability and
environmental impact.

The modify to order principle of these value added packages makes it simple and cost effective for customers to tailor their truck in the areas of importance to them, while maintaining a ‘standard’ as a baseline for the continuous improvement of future models.

Ongoing quality
Toyota did not see the launch of the Tonero as the end point of a process. It represents a stage in a cycle of continuous improvement that will build towards the launch of the next product. Hansei or relentless reflection is a key part of this improvement process and allows the continuing process of learning as an organisation.

Once again product managers headed out to customer sites across Europe, where fleets of Toneros were in operation, to gather essential feedback on the
truck performance.

Detailed interviews covered every aspect of the truck’s design and use, from the ease of entering and exiting to the sensitivity of the controls. While feedback was
overwhelmingly positive, this process of reflection and formalised gathering of feedback has already created a bank of knowledge to be used in the development of future products right across the Toyota range.