By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Every 85 seconds or so, a Corolla rolls down the “money line.”
It’s the nickname for the inspection line where finishing details are made before the vehicle starts its journey to a Toyota dealership.
Some 600 cars are assembled daily at Toyota Mississippi, about where company officials hoped to be with its eighth and newest North American assembly plant.
“It’s amazing to watch the team members today versus six or seven months ago,” said David Copenhaver, the plant’s vice president of administration.
The 2,000 workers – called team members by Toyota – have become more familiar with their jobs, learning the processes and building cars more efficiently.
Production officially began a year ago today at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi. Two weeks ago, it built its 100,000th car.
“Their work speaks for itself,” Copenhaver said.
And when the plant is fully operational, when everybody has his or her job down pat, it will be building up to 150,000 vehicles a year.
TMMMS will need to. The Corolla is among Toyota’s best-selling cars. Through September, Toyota has sold more than 222,000 of them this year in the U.S.
Toyota Mississippi also is a pilot project of sorts for the automaker.
The famed Toyota Production System is in place, but tweaks have been made in the ever-long pursuit of kaizen, or continuous improvement.
At any one time, 550 team members in the assembly shop of the plant are installing 2,300 parts per vehicle.
Speed and efficiency are paramount to keep vehicles moving through the “river assembly” snaking through the shop floor, as they move from one point to another.
Instead of the usual air hoses, electrical wiring and other assembly equipment hanging above their heads, everything comes up from the floor. That clears the space above workers for what Toyota calls a “blue sky” approach, where everything is at or near eye-level.
“It makes it easier to see – you can look straight through and see anyone,” Copenhaver said.
It’s the first North American Toyota plant to take this approach.
In another first, workers in the chassis area work on vehicles side-by-side, rather than front-to-back. This allows workers easier access to the cars, which sit atop platforms. Only a couple of Toyota’s plants in Japan and China use the “bias chassis” method, which allows more room on the assembly floor to add other work areas.
“You have a car in a smaller space and it takes less time to do the work,” said Lou Spagnoletta, assistant manager of trim and chassis.
Parts are also easier for workers to access. The SPS, or Set Parts Section, is where bins are packed with the parts each car needs. They’re moved via wheeled carts and placed next to the lines where assembly workers don’t have to stop and guess which part to use. Everything’s labeled and easily accessible.
Another innovative design is the transfer of vehicles from one assembly point to another. Toyota Mississippi uses a floor-level conveyor system with the cars sitting on “skillets.” Typically, cars are moved overhead using heavy, expensive, energy- and space-consuming lifts. The plant still has some, but far fewer than normal.
That’s another cost-saving move for TMMMS, which is one of only four Toyota “model sustainability plants” worldwide. It’s the only one in North America, featuring lower carbon dioxide emissions and greater energy efficiency through geothermal use.
Building cars safely and efficiently and rolling even more down the “money line” is the goal.
The plant actually is designed to build as many as 200,000 cars annually, Copenhaver said. TMMMS has space available in its 1.8 million-square-foot facility to expand and add equipment to do so.
“As people keep on buying them, we’ll keep making them,” he said.