The all-new 2011 Sienna minivan production started at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana (TMMI) in Princeton, Ind. The Sienna has been fully redesigned to meet consumers' needs. It was styled at Toyota's Calty Design Research Center in Newport Beach, Calif., and developed at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.
After having been underutilized the past year due to the economic downturn, things are looking up for Toyota's Indiana plant, which produces the new Sienna and the Highlander model starting last October.
The 4,200 workers at the plant expressed confidence that improvements made during the economic downturn assure a successful Sienna and Highlander launch.
TMMI arrived at a crossroads in mid-2008 as Toyota experienced significant overcapacity in North America. To deal with the financial difficulties, Toyota consolidated production of the Tundra full-size pickup, which is originally built at TMMI, into its Texas facility.
Toyota also made a decision to start building the Highlander mid-size SUV in Indiana by late 2009. Before Highlander production started though, TMMI was temporarily left with only two vehicles - the Sienna minivan and the Sequoia full-size SUV - on its pair of assembly lines. As a result, TMMI was overstaffed for more than one year.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana disclosed that its outlook has been improved due to the launch of the brand’s new Sienna and the start of production last October of the Highlander. Because of this, Toyota made the decision to upgrade the plant at a cost of around $450 million.
This support to TMMI is similar to how employees and team members were treated during the economic downturn. TMMI, as well as other Toyota plants around North America, did not announce layoffs but rather made the most out of the know-how and skills of its team members.
This approach was different from how other manufacturers dealt with the downturn. According to James, TMMI simply changed its focus considering that it was practical to invest on team members that already had the experience. James adds that when TMMI was not building any vehicles, it focused on training its team members ensuring that they would have a better future.
In order to attain this objective, TMMI put in place a training program design to help the team members get a better understanding of the basic skills needed in manufacturing Toyota’s as well as that of its Toyota Production System.
With this program, the company hopes that with the new knowledge, the team members will perform better on the production line. James shares that such comprehensive training was not possible as long as the production line was moving.
James adds that the company had long been developing how each job in its manufacturing plant could be done in the most efficient manner. Thus rather than look at it negatively, the company instead used the time provided by the economic downturn in order to complete the trainings and hence allow the team members to hone their skills.
As part of their development, TMMI also promotes that its team members practice kaizen, which is Japanese for “continuous improvement.” For Toyota, every idea was welcome and nothing was too small as long as it helped reduce waste and improved its processes.
It is because of this that the company has managed to implement many improvements that resulted in excess of $7 million in savings. This was not limited to these topics alone but even those that helped the company to make sure quality was maintained and safety was improved.
One good example of this is what happened when team members were installing the Sienna’s lower front console and it resulted in a rather awkward position. As a result, the team members managed to have a small power tool that removed the ergonomic issue but at the same time guaranteed that the console would always snap in place.
According to James, the team members themselves are the ones who have the actual knowledge on how to perform their jobs.
James adds that in addition, the team members are flexible enough to make the necessary changes in the process if only to make sure that the efficiency, quality, and safety are improved. James reiterates by saying that improvements will always be difficult if the production line was operational but due to the downtime, they have in fact managed to make important advancements.