Saturday, October 25, 2003

Toyota Observations, Part 2

Much activity has delayed writing up my observations from our October 2 visit to Toyota's Fork Truck factory in Columbus, Indiana. The delay hasn't stopped my mulling it, though. Here are some summary thoughts.


Several years ago, I read a discussion of Toyota's openness in conducting tour after tour of their facility. The reason is that most visitors see things as they are. They take a "mental photograph", if you will, of a static system, resolving to try to do what they see. But the real power in Toyota's system is in its dynamic nature. It is impossible for the outsider to see just how rapidly and repeatedly the Toyota folks change the system. It is anything but is a living, breathing, dynamic system that both changes constantly and is amazingly stable.

I've visited this plant four times now in three years and have had just a glimpse of this dynamic. Here's an example.

  • In our mid-August trip, we saw a new idea for improving a subassembly of a wiring harness. The work bench looked a little rough; duct tape holding some hoses in place, masking tape labels, nothing painted.
  • I asked our host, Jim Clark, just how long this workbench idea had been in process. "Oh, we thought of this about 6 days ago. We built the bench last Saturday and this is the second day it has been in production." Wow.
  • When we showed up again on October 2, we saw the same wiring harness bench again. We learned it had moved twice more since mid-August. It was cleaned up, secured and looked as if it had been there forever.
  • I asked the associate in the area about it. He laughed and shrugged. "Yeah, I guess we did just start that in August. We change so much, I kinda forget just when we did what!"

It is this relentnessness, this assumption of change, this eye to improve constantly, this broad sharing of responsibilities that was so impressive.

Importing Jobs

In the last two years, this plant has imported jobs to their facility. They brought in frame welding from Malaysia. Axles from south Texas. They are in the process of importing hydraulic cylinders.

Talk about turning conventional wisdom on its head!! Smart businesses are supposed to ship jobs to low-wage areas!! Ha, they say! Bring those jobs in house and cut WIP and lead time further.

More significantly, they are using their operational excellence to cut costs. They don't cut wages...they cut total costs.

It is an impressive thing to see such a well-run operation up close. To shake the hands and talk with the very ordinary Hoosiers who make the plant run. To see the metrics of improved throughput with existing staff. I'm impressed. I hope you find this helpful as well.

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