DETROIT - For Toyota's 10-year-old assembly plant in Kentucky, bringing the Sienna minivan into production last year was a new experience.
'Our most recent challenge was for 7,700 team members to build a van and car back-to-back,' said Michael DaPrile, vice president of manufacturing at Toyota Motor Manufactur-ing, Kentucky Inc.
'Toyota never really built a van before. That was done by Toyota Auto Body, a subsidiary' in Japan, he said.
To develop the assembly process, Toyota began prototype work with a 100-member team sent from the United States to Japan two years before production was to begin. That team developed both assembly methods and teaching methods to make the Sienna launch smooth.
Team leaders then transferred their knowledge to 'function groups' responsible for building the Sienna.
The minivans take three times longer to build than the Camrys that are built on the same Georgetown, Ky., line, DaPrile said. But a combination of mechanical assists for the more cumbersome minivan components and a bypass process that lets vans stay in one position keeps the line running efficiently without delaying Camry assembly.