LEXINGTON, Ky. - Toyota Motor Corp. is changing the way its factories will look in the future, with fewer big, dark machines and more of an open-air feel to the floors.
The automaker is ripping out some tooling at its car and minivan plant in Georgetown, Ky., and installing a new generation of furnishings. The project, called 'Blue Sky,' is Toyota's first attempt to rethink its North American factories.
'This really opens up the work area and brings in more light,' says Gary Convis, executive vice president at the Georgetown operation, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky Inc. 'That's where the name comes from.' He spoke at an industry conference here.
A move toward lighter tools and a sunnier factory is intended to create a more pleasant atmosphere. Toyota is introducing new automation to shift workers out of taxing jobs, such as tightening bolts.
And, like other automakers, Toyota wants a more flexible production line. In August, Honda Motor Co. Ltd. unveiled a new flexible body welding line in East Liberty, Ohio, that can accommodate any vehicle roughly the size of the Civic. That will let Honda shift from one product to another in as little as a few weeks, officials say.
Toyota appears to be installing similar tooling. The project coincides with the launch of the next-generation Camry, which Georgetown will begin building next summer.
The new body line should be able to handle an entire side of a vehicle as a single piece, instead of relying on employees or robots to craft the side out of pieces.
Convis and other company officials say little about the project and will not reveal its price.
Production flexibility is not the only motivation for the project. Convis says Toyota is trying to 'get away from heavy tooling' and adopt 'a lot lighter tooling - cheaper tooling.'
The new generation of machinery will represent less investment, meaning Toyota will have less capital tied up in a plant if it decides to change its production mix. Convis estimates that the Blue Sky tooling represents about one-half the investment of past factory tooling projects.