TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - The robots at the heart of Toyota's flexible new production system are easier to use and will require half of the maintenance personnel of the automaker's previous body shop technology, said Don Jackson, vice president of manufacturing at Toyota's Camry/Avalon plant in Georgetown, Ky.
"They are really getting simple to use," Jackson said at the Management Briefing Seminars this month.
As a result, Jackson said, Toyota has been able to make a technology conversion without creating a human resources burden.
In addition to being far cheaper than a decade ago, new robots are easier to program, communicate easily from unit to unit and are easier to troubleshoot, he said.
"When something goes wrong, we have controllers that are simplified with just eight possible choices for response," he said.
For two years, Toyota has been overhauling its plants worldwide to adopt a new manufacturing process it calls the Global Body Line. It installed the system last year at Georgetown, the seventh plant worldwide to adopt it.
The Global Body Line uses reprogrammable welding robots instead of the traditional bank of independent welding jigs.
The new system will allow a Toyota plant to assemble eight different body models in any sequence.
Despite its reliance on high-technology tools, the new system can be set up and launched in about one year, Jackson said, which is about half the time it normally takes to build a traditional body assembly shop.