Toyota Unveils Revamped Manufacturing Process | Yoko Kubota | Wall Street Journal

“Toyota broke a two-year silence on a revamped manufacturing process—built on sharing components among vehicles—that it says will produce half its vehicles by 2020 and slash costs. But its unveiling follows a path blazed in recent years by German rival Volkswagen AG—a reversal for the Japanese pioneer, whose production system was for decades seen as the gold standard, giving the world such manufacturing concepts as ‘just-in-time inventory’ and ‘continuous improvement.'”


Michel Baudin‘s comments:

Other than that Toyota has a plan, the article does not directly reveal specifics. As several readers pointed out in their comments, sharing components across models is not a new idea and is not risk-free, even if executed perfectly, as it reduces the differences between your standard and luxury models in ways that customers may notice.

The most revealing parts of the article, to me, are (1) the reference to VW, and (2) the keyword “modular assembly.” I don’t believe that Toyota has borrowed much from VW since the look of the 1947 Toyota SA, a dead-ringer for the already dated but yet to be successful beetle.

Modular assembly sounds self-explanatory but it isn’t. It is a specific approach to assembling cars brought to VW by former GM purchasing executive Jose Ignacio Lopez in the 1990s, in which up to 90% of the work traditionally done in a car assembly plant is done by suppliers and all that remains is the final assembly of large subsystems.

The Porsche plant in Leipzig, for example, does not stamp, weld, or paint car bodies. It receives them ready to assemble, in a spotlessly clean facility that customers are encouraged to visit.


The Porsche plant in Leipzig

The whole site is in fact dominated by its visitor center, complete with a fine-dining restaurant overlooking the plant and where new buyers can receive an hour’s worth of training on their new cars on the test track. In the same spirit, VW has set up an assembly plant in downtown Dresden, with glass walls to enable passers by to watch cars being assembled.

Modular assembly was used by GM in Lordstown, OH, in 1999, and then by VW in Spain, and by DaimlerBenz for the Smart in Hambach, France . At the time, Toyota evaluated the concept and passed on it. Apparently, Toyota’s production leaders changed their minds.

See on Scoop.itlean manufacturing

2 comments on “Toyota Unveils Revamped Manufacturing Process | Yoko Kubota | Wall Street Journal

  1. The emphasis on sharing components is interesting. After every supplier disruption (e.g., the fire at Aisen in 1997, the earthquake in 2011), there are a raft of articles about how sharing parts and sourcing from fewer firms leave supply chains overly susceptible to disruptions. And if I recall correctly, in the wake of the earthquake, didn’t Toyota announce that they’d diversify their supply base?

  2. Another interesting point is that Volkswagen has consistently been at the bottom of JD Powers IQS (Initial Quality Survey) – quality of the new vehicle in the first 90 days of ownership – per customer experience. This is known to be the a good indicator of “quality of manufacturing” – as the defects are typically immediate deviations from the standard – not reliability issues that are found later on in the life of the vehicle (which tend to be design). The only exception to this is the recent difficulties in the consistent performance of the navigation and interface screen systems in some companies’ vehicles (Ford has struggled) – this has tended to be software design.

    Volkswagen has been in this position for decades with very little improvement. I have personally never considered Volkswagen to be a high quality vehicle – nice performance – but no benchmark for manufacturing quality. When I was at Honda we were always baffled as to why Volkswagen could not (or would not) improve its quality year after year.

    So while this old concept of part commonization and modularizing is a good one – to me it is more based on DFMA (Design for Manufacturing and Assembly) practices – not really on manufacturing process design. Toyota still reigns supreme in this area. Volkswagen is not copied or really even discussed in this category. They are middle or even bottom of the pack.

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