Toyota kicks off 2011 Sienna production

Article by Christian A., on August 25, 2010

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.

Press Release

Toyota Begins Production of Third-Generation Sienna at Indiana Plant

Production of the all-new 2011 Sienna minivan is underway at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana (TMMI) in Princeton, Ind. Fully redesigned to meet the needs of consumers, the new Sienna was styled at Toyota’s Calty Design Research Center in Newport Beach, Calif., and developed at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Production of the new Sienna, as well as Highlander production that began last October, is welcome news for the Indiana plant as it was underutilized during the current economic downturn.

Staying Afloat During Challenging Times
The facility’s 4,200 team members are confident that improvements they made during the economic downturn assured a successful Sienna and Highlander launch. Already grappling with the sales impact of escalating gas prices following Hurricane Katrina, the plant faced an uncertain future when the banking and housing crisis brought the economy to its knees and the auto industry with it.

TMMI came to a critical crossroads in mid-2008 as Toyota experienced significant overcapacity in North America. As a partial solution, Toyota consolidated production of the Tundra full-size pickup – originally built at TMMI – into its Texas facility. Toyota also decided to begin building the Highlander mid-size SUV in Indiana by late 2009.

However, prior to the start of Highlander production, TMMI was temporarily left with only two vehicles – the Sienna minivan and the Sequoia full-size SUV – on its pair of assembly lines. The consequence for TMMI was significant over-staffing for more than one year.

“Without a doubt, our team members were worried,” said Wil James, senior vice president of TMMI. “Layoffs were happening all over the auto industry. It would be many months before Highlander production began. As a result, half of our team members were not building vehicles.”

Fixing this problem was important not only to Toyota and its suppliers, who employ thousands of people in Indiana and many other states, but critical for the well-being of the southwestern Indiana community that relies so heavily on the jobs created by TMMI.

Investment in Team Members and Facilities
Toyota invested approximately $450 million to upgrade the plant. With the start of Highlander production at TMMI last October, and the recent launch of the all-new Sienna, the plant’s outlook has improved dramatically.

TMMI’s survival story is rooted in the way it treated team members during the downturn, an approach far different from most manufacturers. TMMI and other Toyota plants in North America capitalized upon the skill and know-how of team members rather than conduct layoffs.

“It made more sense to further invest in our experienced team members,” James said. “We refocused our work. When we weren’t building vehicles, we were preparing for a brighter future.”

TMMI implemented a training program where team members gained a deeper understanding of the Toyota Production System and fundamental Toyota auto manufacturing skills. The anticipated result is even stronger application of this knowledge to the production line.

“It’s difficult to roll out such comprehensive training when the line is moving,” James said. “Our company spent a lot of time developing the best way to do every job in the plant, so the downturn was actually a great opportunity to complete this training in order to sharpen our skills.”

Team Members Lead Improvements
TMMI also encouraged team members to further kaizen, a Japanese term for continuous improvement. No ideas for improving processes and reducing waste were too small; in fact, hundreds of improvements were implemented resulting in an estimated savings of more than $7 million.

Other team member ideas bolstered safety and ensured consistent quality. For example, the installation of the lower front console on the all-new Sienna put the team member in an awkward position. Team members found a small power tool that ensured the console snapped securely in place every time while eliminating an ergonomic issue.

“Our team members know better than anyone else how to do their jobs and they always have the flexibility to change processes in order to improve safety, quality and efficiency,” James said. “Again, big improvements are difficult when the line is running. But the downtime allowed for significant advancements.

“The power of more than 4,000 people working together on this type of activity is incredible. Our decision to fully utilize our team members was expensive, but it’s paying off already. Currently, our quality is much better than it’s ever been and our safety is among the best in Toyota.”

Shared Sacrifice
Toyota offset some of the cost by adopting a “shared sacrifice” approach, including the elimination of executive and salaried bonuses, executive pay cuts, production team member bonus reductions, overtime elimination, and a hiring freeze.

“These were responsible, step-by-step measures designed to help us protect employment security and strengthen our company over the long term,” James said. “Now, as the market slowly returns, we are in a great position.”

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