When most people think of the Toyota Production System, they undoubtedly—and understandably—think of Camrys and Corollas. But forklifts?
Yes, those, too. In fact, 95% of the forklifts that Toyota Industrial Equipment—which is, interesting enough, a division of Toyota Motor Sales, the same organization that markets the Camrys built in Georgetown, Kentucky, and the Corollas produced in Ontario and in California—sells in the United States are built by Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (TIEM) in Columbus, Indiana. Production began in the Indiana plant in 1990.
TIEM operates with some 450 people who work in a facility that measures just under a half-million square feet. In the plant they produce four different product models: three-wheel electric trucks, four-wheel electric trucks, and two different ranges of internal combustion (gasoline, LPG, diesel) forklifts. This equipment is produced on three different lines in the plant, with the majority—about 75%—being built on the internal combustion engine line. The main processes performed in the plant are welding, painting and assembly.
Although the majority of units built by TIEM have internal combustion engines, they do build electric-powered forklifts, such as this, which has a 6,000-lb. capacity.
"Specials" are Common
|Although the majority of units built by TIEM have internal combustion engines, they do build electric-powered forklifts, such as this, which has a 6,000-lb. capacity.|
Not only does that line produce an array of forklifts that range in size and capacity (one may have a 7,000-lb. capacity and another a 10,000-lb. capacity), but, according to Bruce Nolting, vice president of Purchasing, Production Control & Sales at TIEM, as many as 25% of the units built—or every fourth truck—could be a completely special unit. As Nolting explains, "We feel we're rather unique in that our competitors may make a vanilla truck and take it off line and to a separate line, building or town and add what it takes to make it a special unit." This could mean special seating, lighting, or a variety of other elements. "We do it in line." He adds, with what would seem like a huge understatement with regard to most companies but not Toyota, "As you can well imagine, it takes a significant amount of coordination and planning—getting the right components in the right place at the right time."
The manufacturing strategy at TIEM—which, of course, utilizes the Toyota Production System—is one-piece production. "We have a pull system," Nolting says. "We receive raw materials on one end and `pull' product through final assembly and on to the customer." Facilitating this is the use of kanban cards. When one of the associates on the line takes the first part out of a container, he or she pulls the kanban card from the box, which is a signal that more parts need to be delivered. The cards are collected five times a day; part deliveries are made five times a day. Many of the larger components are kitted and delivered sequentially.
Assuring that parts are ordered and ready is only one part of having the ability to produce the required forklifts. Having the wherewithal to do it is another. In order to assure that the end of the day (they run one shift at TIEM) the necessary number of forklifts has been built, takt time is calculated. By way of example: there are 20 processes on the main line. So, given the number of processes, the number of forklifts that need to be built, the number of people to do the work, and the number of hours available to do the job, the takt time is calculated for the work that needs to be done. Each process has a takt time. This is the number of minutes that is available for the job to be done, whether this is a standard unit or a Toyota Special Design vehicle.
The ability to flex with increases in demand can be accomplished in two ways: either work more hours or add more people. They do work overtime at TIEM. And they do hire people. Nolting observes that it is a fine balance that must be struck: on the one hand, they absolutely do not want to over work the associates; on the other hand, they don't want to add people so that should the market drop there are more people than are needed to perform the work.
Training for Quality
To help assure that there are quality builds each and every time, the people at TIEM are well trained. During an associate's first week with the company, all 40 hours are spent in training, both in the classroom and at the actual work site (a practice that's called "assimilation"). The training starts with safety, which is the number-one concern, then moves to achieving quality through the Toyota Production System. Then there is on-going training of associates at all levels of the organization either with internal classes or at nearby educational institutions.
|According to Bruce Nolting, the painted items on the forklifts built by TIEM—especially the counterweights (the back end, which keeps the vehicle stable when the front is loaded)—have what he describes as "an automotive finish." In order to assure the quality of the paint, there are more counterweights in the system at any given time than there are frames, which can be produced more readily.|
Although the work isn't performed by teams of workers per se, the supervisory structure is organized so that there are groups of associates that are managed by an "assistant team leader" and groups of assistant team leaders under a "team leader." What's more, there are groups of volunteers who are called "TIEM Improvement Groups," which set out to identify and resolve problems and to make overall improvements in the plant.
Workers are cross trained in order to maintain flexibility. The approach is for an individual to first learn the jobs of the people who work on either side of him or her—the supplier and the customer in the sequence. Assistant team leaders must be capable of filling in for any of the people who are within that particular grouping.
A hard schedule is set eight days in advance of production. What this means is that given an order, changes can be made to it up to the eighth day before it will be produced. This doesn't mean that everything can be changed, but literally several hundred things can be modified. (And Nolting admits that they'll even accommodate late changes, but this would undoubtedly require having to move the vehicle off the line to handle it.) The reason why it is eight days and not seven or nine is simply based on being able to provide the suppliers with a sufficient time frame in which they can meet the orders. They are working on reducing that amount of time.
Once a vehicle is to be built, then all of the items (with the exception, of course, of things like nuts and bolts) that go in to making that vehicle are numbered. There is one-piece production in the sense that all of those items are going to come together to make the indicated unit. Which means that (1) equipment uptime, (2) the availability of people, and (3) quality are crucial.
According to Bruce Nolting, the painted items on the forklifts built by TIEM—especially the counterweights (the back end, which keeps the vehicle stable when the front is loaded)—have what he describes as "an automotive finish." In order to assure the quality of the paint, there are more counterweights in the system at any given time than there are frames, which can be produced more readily.
Although there is a preventive maintenance (PM) program in place, with each piece of machinery having its own schedule for PM, let's face it: things break. When this happens, things don't come to a complete halt. In fact, when there are problems it should be that the next process in the sequence doesn't even notice the stoppage. Nolting explains that it is a matter of keeping track of what happens in the various processes: how much downtime has there been; how much time has it taken to repair? Given that historical information about process capability, things are scheduled accordingly.
For example, in the case of the mast assembly line (the unit on the front of the forklift), given the takt time, the amount of time required to produce a mast, and the time that repairs have taken in the past when things have gone gone, they'll keep 40 to 45 minutes of finished products ahead of final assembly. Consequently, if something goes wrong on the mast line, the final assembly line wouldn't notice it unless the amount of time needed to repair the broken equipment exceeded the number of finished masts on hand (which is statistically unlikely). This is not buffer in the traditional sense, because, as mentioned, each major element that goes into the build of a vehicle is numbered—one particular mast is to be mated with one particular frame and so on.
The availability of people issue is addressed through the cross training of the associates, the abilities of the assistant team leaders to take on tasks of any of the associates, and by a restriction of the number of people within a given area who can take vacation at any one time.
As for quality, it is paramount. Each vehicle produced undergoes a comprehensive inspection. Each and every flaw is identified, listed, and repaired. The issues are collected on a Completed Vehicle Inspection (CVI) board. Where a problem occurred is determined. The assistant team leader responsible for the process where it came from must talk to the person responsible for the defect no later than by the start of work the day after the issue gets on the CVI board. There are daily meetings at the start of work each day to review the previous day's work and to plan what will happen that day so interactions between people are a matter of course.
In fact, meetings are critically important to the success at TIEM. Nolting says that every week there is an Associates' Meeting. Each area of the plant sends a representative to a one-hour meeting with the executive staff. They can voice complaints, recommendations, ideas, suggestions, and so on. "This lets us find out what's going on—what we need to be doing in order to improve," Nolting says.
In a lean organization like TIEM, everyone has to be involved in getting the job done right.