While much of the year's news about Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America Inc. has focused on its search for production capacity and plant sites, the automaker still faced the daily task of running one of the biggest auto factories in North America.
For Don Jackson, vice president of manufacturing at the Georgetown, Ky., plant, that daily routine has been a checklist of changes.
The 15-year-old operation just launched its first model under a new flexible body system and flexible paint shop. Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell spoke with Jackson about Toyota's direction.
Georgetown recently put the Solara into production with some new approaches. What were the biggest changes this time?
It was the first vehicle project where North America took the lead as part of our drive for more self-reliance.
North American groups engineered and planned it - our production engineering groups and manufacturing groups worked hand-in-hand with our designers.
The chief engineer was transferred to the United States and stayed here.
That meant we had much more interaction and involvement in countermeasures on the designs and changes.
Supplier interaction also improved and was easier.
If you looked at the last three or four products we launched, the master schedule is different every time.
We're changing the time necessary to go from chief engineer and concept stage to the line off.
Our current Avalon project is tighter. The next Camry project will push the envelope in reducing the schedule.
Where will you be looking for more schedule reductions going forward?
We really want to go prototypeless in the future. I think that's only a couple of projects away. Already, we don't build anywhere near the number of prototypes we did even 15 years ago.
Because of the new information systems, CAD systems and virtual processing systems, we continue to improve the time to final stage.
We also want the supplier to go prototypeless.
We're trying to get closer and closer to a perfect drawing, where we actually tool the drawing. That reduces our total preparation costs.
How much do you think you can really save on development costs doing this?
I'd say 20 to 25 percent, at least. That's nonvalue-added money, if you're throwing prototype tooling away.
There are a lot of ways to bring down the time and cost.
For example, we've started using a new paint system that's much easier to change over to a new product.
In the past, to match the colors exactly, you had to do color trials, and you had to have a very large batch of paint to do the trials.
Now we can do it out of a five-gallon drum.
Why change things at Georgetown? It was already an industry benchmark in many areas.
Mostly to be able to reduce our lead times, to respond to the market faster.
The shorter our lead time is, the better we can hit the market trend we're forecasting.
Shooting at a target that is three years out is a lot less certain than shooting at one that is only 18 months out.
I know you saw the recent Stephen Spielberg sci-fi movie, Minority Report, which actually envisioned a North American Toyota factory operating 50 years in the future. What was it like to glimpse your own future?
Probably the thing that struck me most was that the factory in the movie assembled the car and then painted it. It made me stop and consider that maybe you don't have to do the manufacturing process as we do it today.
Young people are a lot more savvy about information system technologies than people of our generation.
I can actually see more innovative thinking being built into our processes in the future. Who knows what's possible? How about this: What if you could use an ink-jet cartridge printer to paint cars? (Laughs.) Nothing's impossible. We're really looking at our capital equipment a lot closer right now.