Toyota is testing three-shift schedule at its Mexican small site

Article by Andrew Christian, on October 28, 2014

Toyota Motor Corp. usually runs its assembly sites in three shifts. But due to the need to produce more vehicles while not building a new plant, Toyota will test having a three-shift work schedule. Having the privilege to test the new system is the carmaker’s small plant in Baja California, Mexico that builds the Tacoma.

Once Toyota adopts the three-shift system on most of its sites, the carmaker would have more capability to build more vehicles even if it does not open a new plant. However, implementing such system company-wide could take years and could also complicate its rollout of its modular Toyota New Global Architecture platform.

Steve St. Angelo, chief executive of Toyota's Latin America and Caribbean operations, remarked that since the carmaker has not had much experience with three shifts, it wants to test it out and see if the system is “really good for Toyota or not."

He added that the three-shift experiment at the Baja plant has to be successful since it could open up an opportunity for some sites to adopt the system “where it makes sense." He noted that although a swift to a three-shift production system is difficult to do, it is a good way to get volume and cars to customers in a short time frame.

Toyota’s current production philosophy claims that output gains from having three shifts were offset by other lost efficiencies. For instance, a third shift means lesser time for maintenance, resulting to an increased risk of machine breakdown. Likewise, a third shift means more fixed costs.

On the other hand, adding or dropping workers on a two-shift schedule (plus overtime if needed) allows Toyota to be more flexible while limiting restraining costs.

While Toyota has an assembly plant in Valenciennes, France working on three shifts, no carmaker has a Japanese site working on such production scheme. Nissan’s sites in Smyrna, Tenn. and in Sunderland, England both operate on three shifts. Honda, meanwhile, has stuck to its two-shift schedule.

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