The Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (TIEM) plant in Columbus, Indiana has more lessons for us as we continued our tour last Friday. Although you can never learn all that you want in just one day, a simple glimpse really, it was enough to spark my critical lean thinking into high gear.
One of the most striking things you see at this plant is what you don’t see. That is the almost complete absence of cardboard boxes and other dunnage typically found in manufacturing plants. All the parts are delivered to this plant in reusable/returnable containers. The same goes even for parts shipped in from Japan. It was interesting to see that the sides of the returnable containers from Japan were dual colored to visually display two difference orientations. The first orientation lets the totes stack, one atop the other. The second orientation allows the same totes to nest within each other to provide better density on the return trip.
Seeing this return container design makes the engineer in me imagine all kinds of possibilities that I may have not though possible before. It also makes me wonder if we should aggressively pursue the use of returnable containers, even to China. Everybody tells us it is too expensive and not logistically practical so we just ignore the possibility. Does anybody use returnable containers with their China suppliers?
The leaders of this plant are extremely proud, and rightly so, of their contribution to conservation of resources and their stewardship of the environment by becoming a landfill free facility. With the universal use of returnable container and a strong recycling program, TIEM does not send any waste to landfills. How many of our plants can say the same?