An inside look at Toyota's lift truck plant in Indiana

Mike Wroblewski

I spent a day recently touring the Toyota Material Handling (TMH) facility located in Columbus, Ind. Although this facility has been open since 1990 and within an hour drive of my home, I never had the opportunity to take an inside look at their operation before now. Thank you Toyota for opening your doors so we can learn.

Some of you may wonder if this company is part of the Toyota Motor Company or just a company using the Toyota name in a licensing agreement. Although they don’t build cars, they actually are part of the Toyota organization and follow the Toyota Way.

A few facts first:

  • 99 percent of all the Toyota lift trucks sold in North America are manufactured in Columbus, Ind.
  • More than 800 employees work to produce almost 30,000 trucks per year.
  • More than 60 different models of electric lifts are produced: 3,000 to 12,000 pounds and internal combustion lifts from 3,000 to 17,000 pounds.
  • The facility covers 880,000 square feet on approximately 101 acres of land.
  • The operations within this facility include metal fabrication, welding, powder coating, assembly and distribution.
  • Three main lines assembly lines currently run at various takt times from 4.5 minutes to 33 minutes, adjusted monthly.

Now the lean lessons:

Each area holds a morning meeting (called “asaichi meeting”) for about eight minutes to discuss the day’s schedule, safety issues, quality concerns, improvement ideas, company news and take attendance.

Right after this meeting, all of the team leaders gather together to help each other face the challenges of achieving the daily production requirements. This meeting goes for about six to eight minutes with attendance being the primary topic. Depending on who is missing, the team leaders quickly agree on shifting associates to fill the gaps. A skill matrix chart helps them determine which associates have the required skills to fill the needs.

The team leaders will reconvene every two hours during the entire shift to make sure everybody stays on the same page throughout the day.

The area will meet as a group at the end of the shift to review issues of the day. This meeting is called the “yuichi meeting”, or p.m. meeting.

The meetings were conducted in front of the respective area’s measurement boards, called “team leader control boards”, listing all the metrics like attendance, 5-S, kaizen newspapers, defect lists, etc. The kaizen newspaper lists problems, the temporary countermeasure, the permanent countermeasure, who identified it, the planned date of completion and the actual date of completion. They also use the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) circle to visually show the four phases (investigation, find root cause, implement countermeasure and standardize).

Each line has a master andon board that displays the daily production target, the actual number of units produced, lights for each workstation, the anticipated overtime for that day and a running time of any line stoppages. The workstation lights are yellow and red. When the yellow light flashes, it is a signal for needing help within a takt time. The red light signifies the line is stopped. In addition to the flashing lights, music is played. The line I observed played “It’s a small world”, which I listened to several times on that day.

A cool idea was the formation of a kaizen group. This kaizen group consisted of 10 shop-floor associates on a six-month rotational assignment, all on a voluntary basis, to focus solely on helping implement kaizen ideas. They build carts, make labels, work on fixtures or work aids, etc. Really, they do whatever they can to get these ideas implemented.

Where do the kaizen ideas come from? They come from all the associates who are asked to come up with three ideas per associate per month (think quick and easy kaizen). While Toyota encourages associates to implement their own improvement ideas, sometimes they need help. That’s where this kaizen group steps in.

There were more lessons that I will share in follow-up articles, but this will give you enough to think about for now.

This facility was not as organized or spotless as the Toyota Lexus plant I visited in Japan, but nonetheless, a great plant to see the Toyota Way in action without having to go all the way overseas.

About the author:

Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is president of Victory Alliance Technologies, a Greensburg, Ind., firm that specializes in lean implementation. He writes a blog called "Got Boondoggle?" featuring lean and Six Sigma topics. Mike can be reached by e-mail at mwroblewski@victory-alliance.com.

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About the Author

Toyota Material Handling

Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is currently a ...