Toyota starts production at San Antonio assembly plant

RP news wires, Noria Corporation

The first all-new 2007 Tundra full-size pickup rolled off the assembly line at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas Inc., or TMMTX, on Friday, November 17. The line-off of the new Tundra marked the official grand opening of the $1.28 billion San Antonio plant. The plant will start with a one-shift operation, and add a second shift in the spring of 2007.


"The full-size pickup truck market is, by far, the single-largest opportunity for Toyota's future growth plans in the U.S.," said Don Esmond, senior vice president of automotive operations, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. "Thanks to this highly efficient plant, the on-site suppliers and all the team members, we plan to take full advantage of that opportunity. The new Tundra will arrive in showrooms in February. Our production and sales goals are ambitious, yet realistic, and reflect our confidence in the product."


If the class-leading new 2007 Toyota Tundra is the largest, most sophisticated and most powerful half-ton pickup truck ever built, it's only fitting that the factory where it is first assembled is the most advanced that Toyota has yet built in the United States. TMMTX will be capable of producing approximately 200,000 new Tundras each year, with a crew of 2,000 team members working two shifts.


The TMMTX plant is located on the 2,000-acre site of the former Walsh-Small Ranch, said to be the oldest cattle ranch in Texas, one that was active even before Texas statehood. The site is just south of downtown San Antonio, in historic Bexar County. The location was chosen when key factors converged for Toyota's executives and planners, including truck market dynamics, geography, transportation resources, and community support.


Texas is the capital of full-size pickup sales in the United States. In fact, roughly one of every seven full-size pickups sold in the U.S. is sold in Texas. Geographically, the area south of San Antonio offered a large tract of flat, open ground required to build such a large facility. While the U.S. has an abundance of open lands, it is not easy to locate that large a parcel near major workforce and transportation resources.


An important component offered by the San Antonio site is access to the state's transportation facilities – both rail and highway. The plant requires two-way transportation, to bring in parts and materials and ship out finished Tundras.

To accomplish this, the plant is near two major Interstates, 10 (east/west) and 35 (north/south), which connect it to the nation's interstate highway system. It is also immediately adjacent to a pair of competing rail lines. This gave Toyota the opportunity to build connections to each of these lines, and to build loading docks so that multiple rail cars can be loaded at the same time.


Team members
The second critical factor for choosing San Antonio as a site for the new Tundra plant was the availability of a large pool of qualified workers. San Antonio is the eighth-largest city in the U.S. and the second-largest in Texas. Toyota received more than 100,000 applications for the 2,000 high-paying manufacturing jobs. The company strives to reflect the diversity of the communities in which it does business. TMMTX's workforce reflects San Antonio's diverse population, which is about 60 percent Hispanic.


With the necessary conditions of land, transportation and workforce addressed, and the city selected, Toyota was ready to break ground on the project. The company acquired the site in 2003 meaning that TMMTX has gone from ranch land to state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in just three years.


This was an enormous task, considering the 6.5 million cubic yards of dirt moved, the 250,000 yards of concrete poured (enough to pave a two-lane highway 53 miles long), the 15,000 tons of steel erected and the 10 acres of railway siding installed.

At a total cost of $1.28 billion, the result is 2.2 million square feet, or 46 acres, of main factory built to construct the 2007 Tundra from scratch, starting from coils of steel rolling into one end of the building and ending with gleaming, powerful trucks rolling out the other. The plant contains stamping, welding, paint, plastics and assembly facilities where TMMTX team members can build Tundras at a rate of up to about 750 per day.


On-site suppliers
On-site and fully integrated with the main plant are separate production and assembly facilities for 21 individual parts and component suppliers. That means that an additional 1.8 million square feet were constructed to house their operations and an additional 2,100 workers. There are many advantages to this arrangement, not the least of which is logistics costs. Traditionally, auto suppliers are located in the Midwest and South. Bringing them on-site reduces parts shipping costs. Parts are provided to the main Tundra production facility as they are needed. Little of what goes into the new Tundra is sourced from Japan: approximately 80 percent of the content is domestic.


Co-location also speeds communications. TMMTX and its on-site supplier partners can quickly react to and solve problems as they arise. It's also better for the environment, reducing over-the-road trucking and resulting emissions. Finally, the on-site suppliers invested an additional $300 million at the site, a further economic development boost for the community.

Seven of the 21 on-sight suppliers are minority-owned, including six new joint ventures between San Antonio-based businesses and traditional U.S. and Japanese auto industry suppliers. These seven companies are majority-owned by minorities. This represents a unique approach to supporting the further development of a minority supplier base.


Production process
Building Tundra is a highly choreographed process. First, Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) places orders. They create long-range forecasts so manufacturing can order parts, and production-controllers can tell plants what exactly to build. In a process called "sequential build," each bare chassis comes down the line and has a paper manifest attached, that shows what type of parts the truck needs, much like a recipe. This requires a sophisticated parts-delivery system to ensure that parts are getting to the line to match the vehicles. Having the seat company on site, for instance, means that the seat company will get a list of the exact vehicles to be built that day and in the order in which they'll be built. The finished seats are shipped to the plant and loaded onto the assembly line in the proper order. Team members verify that the seat is correct.


TMMTX operations will ramp up in steps. Beginning back in September, the plant began pilot versions of the truck. This phase was designed to make certain
• that all the production equipment works as it was designed to work
• that all manufacturing processes all work as they should
• all team members are properly trained
• and that all the parts fit together correctly on the truck.


The TMMTX factory floor features a blend of automation and manpower. In the welding and painting areas of the plant, robots do much of the work. Nearly 400 handle painting and welding, making those areas about 90-percent automated.

Even where manpower is primarily used, a variety of "assist devices" help assembly workers lift and move heavy, bulky items such as seats and doors. Using this creative combination of muscle and machine, it takes about 24 hours going from raw, coiled steel to finished, painted, rolling and running state-of-the-art pickup.


Environmentally advanced
In keeping with its state-of-the-art technology and processes, Toyota's newest production facility will be the company's most environmentally-advanced to date. For instance, TMMTX has prioritized the reduction of paint booth emissions by using only cartridge-based paint systems. The advantage is that it eliminates the need to purge paint lines when a color change is made. The primer paint booth uses a water-born paint system, a first for Toyota in North America and further protecting the environment.


Water, in fact, is an important consideration in this area of Texas, and TMMTX employs a number of water conservation measures. The plant was designed to consume as little as possible. TMMTX buys recycled water from the San Antonio Water System for 100 percent of its processes. The only fresh water used at the plant is for the kitchen and restrooms.


In addition to conserving resources and preventing emissions, the San Antonio plant reduces waste in a number of ways. It operates as a zero-landfill facility, meaning no waste will be taken to a landfill. The plant will recycle extensively.

For instance, scrap steel will return to the steel mill, scrap plastic will be shredded and returned to a pellet manufacturer. Even the amount of packaging of new parts – packaging that might ordinarily be thrown away – has been minimized. Substituting wooden pallets with plastic will also make a difference. Wood breaks up and wears out, then must be disposed of in a landfill, while plastic can be used over and over again for a much longer period of time.


"TMMTX is a not only a brand-new plant for a brand-new truck, it's Toyota's opportunity for long-term growth in the full-size pickup segment and the community of San Antonio," said Esmond.

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