Toyota plant in France aims to be lean, mean

VALENCIENNES, France - Toyota's new Yaris plant here has become the company's global benchmark for efficiency.

What distinguishes Valenciennes from other small-car assembly plants in Europe is compactness, says Didier Leroy, vice president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing France, who is in charge of the plant.

"The plant covers an area of only 336,000 feet, which is about 30 percent smaller than the average size of the plants operated by our European competitors," he says.

Why is size so important? Leroy says amortization of the investment in a plant is directly related to its surface area. A smaller surface area means lower construction costs. It also means lower operating costs.

No extra space

"When you multiply the 100,000 to 132,000 (smaller) surface area by the height of the building, 26 to 33 feet on average, the result is (several) hundred thousand fewer cubic feet to heat, ventilate and light," he says.

Leroy says compact manufacturing is consistent with Toyota's lean-manufacturing principles.

"In the logic of lean production, which we have pushed to its limits here, extra space simply creates bottlenecks in both physical and information flows," he says.

The layout of the plant is designed to minimize distances and improve communications.

A quality management area at the center of the plant is just 165 feet from the exits for the body, paint and trim, and final assembly shops.

Automation levels on the Yaris assembly line are low, only 65 percent in the body shop. But the percentage may increase.

Leroy says, for an inexpensive car such as the Yaris, the payback on highly automated robotic lines is not always obvious. But he also thinks that as the Valenciennes personnel gain competence, automation levels could be increased. "It will depend also on how production volumes evolve," he says.

Best practices

When Toyota builds a plant, it brings together best practices from existing Toyota plants to create an international reference for Toyota in terms of industrial efficiency. The Valenciennes plant has, for example, adopted an ordering system for local parts that was first used in Canada and which now is available to the company's other production sites.

Designed for a smooth parts flow, the ordering system requires suppliers to prepare their goods in packages containing just enough parts for one delivery to the assembly line.

The Valenciennes plant also monitors supplier quality rigorously, says Reynald Debaut-Henocque, general manager of the quality control division.

With 132 suppliers delivering 16,000 components, this is not easy.

"It consumes a lot of resources for us, but gives a vision quickly of the problems that the supplier has not yet been able to master," he said, adding it's critical to deliver on time because production for the Yaris is less than two shifts.

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