Monday, September 11, 2006
Japan Day 1 - Toyota Motor Kyushu
On our first manufacturing tour day in Japan, we wasted little time and proceeded directly to the pinnacle of lean manufacturing in the world, the Toyota Motor Company. After many years of reading, hearing and studying about Toyota with their successful Toyota Production System, I find myself standing today in the newest Toyota plant in Japan. My first impression is "WOW, these guys are REALLY good and they make manufacturing look easy."
The Toyota Motor Kyushu plant was built in 1991 and is one of 15 Toyota plant in Japan. This plant makes several different models including the Lexus IS 350, Lexus ES 350, Lexus RX 350, Harrier Hybrid and the Kluger (Highlander). Approximately 1,784 vehicles are produced per day for a Takt time of 60 seconds per vehicle with planned overtime currently in the schedule. The workforce is about 6,500 employees (almost double from a year ago!) . The percentage full time permanent employees to temporary employees is split even at 50%-50%.
The operations on site, performed in several buildings, include pressroom, welding, paint, assembly and inspection. The welding building contains 480 computerized robots hitting over 5,000 hit points (spot welds) on average per vehicle. All the doors, lids, hoods, etc are removed after the paint process, then re-fastened in assembly for easier access during assembly. The entire plant is air-conditioned for climate control. A total of over 2,800 different components are assembled on the painted bodies.
The assembly operation is divided between two buildings, the Lexus line in one and the Harrier/Kluger models in the other. The Lexus building was not open for tours for some "top secret" reason so our access was limited to the Harrier/Kluger line. In this building, all the models were run across a single assembly line with the line woven back and forth 11 times. Each of the 11 sections of assembly line is about 100 meters long and run independent of each other with a 5 car buffer between them. This buffer was a employee suggestion to keep portions of the assembly line running when one section was having a problem. A key example of Standard Work in Process.
Another implemented employee suggestion was a seat for the assembler working inside the vehicle called a "Rakuraku Seat". This seat moved with the conveyor line, with some stock bins attached, allowing the operator to swing inside the interior of the vehicle to perform their tasks then swing out while seated. It reminded me of those baby walkers as the operator propelled themselves down the line with their feet while sitting on the seat.
During our tour, assembly operators on several occasions pulled the stop cord on the assembly line due to a problem. In a matter of seconds, the floater for that area rushed over to the problem site. If the problem could be resolved in the remaining takt time, the line was started up again. Otherwise, the team leader was called in to help. If the problem could not be solved in 2 Takt Time cycles, the Line Leader was called in to help. At each level, the question was a simple matter of what degree was the problem, promoting quick response.
An interesting point is that the assembly line had a goal of only 97% uptime. They did not want 100%. It was believed that a goal of 97% was better (more realistic) and prevented quality problems from being slipped through. If the goal is 100%, the employees would say that something was not really a problem and let it go to keep at a target of 100%. With a target of 97%, the employees would not be pressured to let things go and stop the line to correct the problem!
The floater was the pivital position on the assembly line. This person's span covered about 4-5 line operators and performed tasks ranging from filling up bins (waterspider role), quick quality double checks, first responder to line problems from pulling the stop, absentee coverage, relief for line operators, etc. From my observation, this is a key role in the successful flow of Toyota's assembly line.
Another observation is the general material flow. I saw operators performing ONLY assembly tasks while the material handlers moved parts. With the Kanban card system and material coming in on multiple carts, it was like a well choreographed dance. Toyota made it look simple using only about a 1/2 day of inventory on the line. Except for the receiving and between buildings, there were no fork trucks handling material in the assembly plant. Electric carts pulled the material around the assembly line on flat bed carts. I saw as many as 5 material carts hooked together and pulled by one electric cart.
Overall, the flow of operations appeared well planned, very organized and made to look simple. For visual management, there were plenty of floor marks, small signs and other signals mainly dealing with material. Even the visual mangement was simple and did not clutter the walls or overtake the plant floor. With the number of line stops I saw today, it was apparient that Toyota is not perfectly run. I did not expect to see perfection today but Toyota comes very close.