Among the new manufacturing goals:
- Halve the capital investment needed to prepare a new production line, compared with levels in 2008 during the financial crisis.
- Slash the investment needed to build a new plant 40 percent by switching to "simple and slim" lines.
- Make future plants 25 percent smaller so they will use less raw material and energy while being more flexible.
"No matter what product comes [down the line], we can process it in the same way," said Hirofumi Muta, senior managing officer for production engineering. "The burden on the operators is reduced, and we can improve efficiencies."
Key to the plan is the adoption of demand-responsive lines that can be shortened or extended, like toy-train tracks, in a matter of hours rather than days to adjust to changing demand.
Assembly equipment and machinery sit on rollers so the line can be rapidly reconfigured as needed. Conventional line machines are rooted in floor pits or fixed to the ceiling. The new approach, first introduced in 2010, will be used in every new factory. That change helps reduce factory investment by 40 percent, Toyota said.
In addition, a new paint line is 20 percent shorter and 40 percent more compact. It replaces four paint robots with just two employing adjustable paint nozzles that are more efficient. The new line slashes investment costs 40 percent and uses 41 percent less energy.
The first new paint shop goes into operation in April at Toyota's Tsutsumi assembly plant in Toyota City.
Toyota has also developed a new type of laser welding that is faster and more efficient than traditional spot welding.
By using a concentrated beam of light, instead of a hot electrode, the so-called laser screw welding can seal three welds in less than 1 second, compared with more than 2 seconds the old way. The faster welding lines are also half as long as previous ones.
What's more, the laser spot welds can be used on both steel and aluminum whereas older spot welders could do one or the other. Toyota began using laser screw welding in 2013 in the Lexus IS sedan but has since expanded its use across the Lexus lineup.
At the briefing, Toyota engineers showed a host of other manufacturing processes that are more compact and faster.
They include a one-by-one bumper production process that feeds bumpers directly into a painting unit, thereby eliminating the need for wasteful inventory space. Also on tap is a more compact and less costly hot-stamping process, a smaller interior trim molding machine and a new adhesive application robot.
Kato said the manufacturing upgrades will require new investments, but he declined to put a dollar figure on them. Executives added that new investments will be on average lower than similar capital outlays made before the financial crisis.