Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Toyota Up Close

The Toyota Georgetown plant is a sight to see. I had the opportunity to tour this amazing plant today, and I was not disappointed. Certain things about the plant were what I expected, and some things were totally different.

Examples of things that I expected:
  • I knew that the facility was large (it covers 1,300 acres of land and 7.5 million square feet of covered space)
  • I also knew that it would be clean (I didn't see one single oil spot or even a somewhat messy area)
  • Andon cords are everywhere, and are actually used properly
  • Work flows from one station to the next without delay via the constantly moving conveyor line
  • All travel lanes are clearly marked and safety precautions are upheld
  • They have a large section of the plant devoted to employee training. This signals a strong commitment to developing their people.

Examples of things that I didn't expect:

  • I didn't anticipate the incredible level of automation. The amount of technology and machinery is mindboggling. Entire car bodies fly overhead courtesy of an overhead conveyor system. Dozens of welding robots work in perfect unison to weld the body together. Engines and other major components are delivered to the line and raised into position automatically by special hoists. Unmanned supply carts travel down aisles, guided only by magnetic signals.
  • A few things were way more human than I expected. Some associates actually ride around the plant on 3-wheel bikes with baskets on the back, just like a Florida retiree. Ping-pong tables, fooseball tables, and basketball goals are all located within feet of the main assembly line.
  • The plant was much fuller than I had envisioned. For some reason, I had expected to see a pretty open layout with plenty of walking room. Instead, almost every square foot of the plant is occupied by something. No space is wasted.
  • The tour was a little confusing. I expected a more logical "flow" to the tour path, but the tour is catered to the average potential customer, not to Lean advocates or manufacturing dudes. I wish I could have been walking instead of riding on the tram, but oh well.

Click here to take a virtual tour. The web site gives you a lot of the same information that you get on the real tour. After seeing Toyota up close, I realize that they're not this mythical entity that they appear to be when you read about them in books or on blogs. They're a manufacturing company.

That being said, they're a pretty darn good manufacturing company. They're also a pretty darn good corporate citizen. They provide their employees with education opportunities, a pharmacy, a daycare for their children, and countless other benefits. They work hand-in-hand with several local charities, educational institutions, environmental groups, and several other entities. They see these activities as investments in their future. Toyota is one heckuva role model.


dbashaw said...

I recently toured the toyota plant with Mike, and it was well worth the trip.When I talk to people about it usually their first reaction(like mine) is that "they are just making the same car over and over " no wonder they are so good at it. But they are not! think about how many different colors they have,transmissions,engines,tires, and all the other options they have with all that said they have a brand new car coming off their line every 53 seconds.ITS AMAZING

Mike L said...

Just 53 seconds! That's amazing. It's truly incredible that 7,000+ employees can function so harmoniously that they can produce a best-selling, high-quality, complex vehicle every minute on BOTH lines. That's over 1000 cars per day, using Kentucky natives, in the middle of nowhere. For those doubters of the Toyota Production System, I say be skeptical if you want, but it just makes you seem foolish.

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