Put people – not profits – first, and other lessons learned from visiting Toyota

Auto Manufacturing Line

In late November, a group of Intelex employees made the 100-kilometer trek from Toronto to Cambridge, Ont. to the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMMC) Inc. plant. The highly cross-functional team included members from Sales, Marketing, Consulting and Implementation, Sales Engineering, Customer Engagement, Customer Success, and Product Management. We wanted to gain insight, first-hand, into the activities within a world-class automotive manufacturing company that exemplify an integrated EHSQ management system – before the impending holiday season and 2018 bomb cyclone made headlines!

The team prepared extensively for the tour. We wanted to maximize our learning while on site and help retain this information long-term. We looked at the history of Toyota to discover why it had become so successful and capable of producing award- winning quality products, while exceeding customer expectations. We learned that each vehicle manufactured at Toyota’s TMMC plant goes through over 4,800 quality checks before leaving the facility! There was so much to Toyota’s success that we never knew, even with one of their plants right in our own backyard.

Above: Intelex team makes the 100-km trek to Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. for a plant tour.

Toyota, founded in 1937, is one of the world’s largest OEMs, with a market value of over US$229 billion, over US$16.5 billion in net income, and a staggering workforce of over 364,000 employees. Being able to do business in a sustainable way in over 190 countries for over 80 years is no easy task. There’s plenty that we can all learn from Toyota and apply in our own businesses.

If there is a company that epitomizes what an integrated EHSQ Management system should look like, it’s Toyota. Their objectives cut across proactive prevention of workplace incidents, global environmental improvement initiatives, and an endless pursuit of defect reduction and waste elimination by leveraging the “Toyota Way”. To get the most value from the visit, our team discussed Toyota’s various initiatives prior to the tour. This helped each attendee put themselves in the shoes of Intelex’s customer base and get a feel for what it’s like being an EHSQ professional, what challenges they’re up against, and the organizations that Intelex is ultimately trying to help Change Business for Good.

Each of us took home an important lesson that day. These were the most important to me.

Lesson 1: People first, not profits

The people in your organization make or break your business. Having a group of inspired, motivated, intelligent, and fun people pays for itself in spades. In this context, one plus one does equal three and you truly can achieve what otherwise seems impossible and daunting at the beginning of a project. With a high-performing group of motivated team members at Toyota, there were numerous examples of how they helped to get Toyota to where it is today and where it is headed in the future.

Good companies typically have some form of a Continuous Improvement (CI) program, especially those with a strong Culture of Quality. At Toyota, every year team members contribute thousands of CI initiatives in addition to their daily responsibilities. Now that’s engagement! How often do you see the majority of your workforce going beyond their daily responsibilities to help their colleagues and their business improve?

At Toyota, these ideas are voted upon and the best ones that are implemented then compete against other Toyota business unit improvements around the world. These enhancements range from improving worker safety, reducing product defects, and improving productivity to improving ergonomics in a workspace, on-site wellness programs, and completely new automated systems used on every shop floor. Toyota’s approach to its most vital assets, its team members, focuses on autonomy, empowerment, ongoing training and development, and the process approach to everything they do. In all of our businesses, we should never lose sight of this. This extends outside of the workplace as well to non-profits, families, and even friends.

Lesson 2: Resilient and robust supply chains pay dividends…and then some!

One of the most fascinating things I learned about Toyota and started thinking more deeply about afterwards was both how complex and accurate supply chains need to be for mass production. As part of your manufacturing and supplier strategy, you need to consider the tradeoffs between tying up working capital in large volumes of inventory for parts with the concept of flow or lean manufacturing to ensure that product is constantly moving through your plant. One of the worst things a business can do is tie up capital in inventory that is sitting on a shelf depreciating.

Toyota demonstrated that they have minimal inventory and have very strong and reliable working relationships with their supply base that helps them achieve this. According to the OEM Supplier Working Relations Index, Toyota takes the lead when it comes to its strength in its supply chain against other OEMs like GM and Ford. Companies like Tesla, trying to break new ground in mass production of its Model 3, will definitely have to ensure they have a robust supply chain to achieve its target of producing 5,000 Model 3s per week.

Better yet, new automotive startups like Byton, with the unveiling of their “digital lounge” concept at CES 2018, better put effort into planning for their supply chain operations if they want to be successful when they bring their car to production in 2019. Toyota goes as far as allocating real estate on its campus for its suppliers in case additional inventory needs to be stored during a stretch of inclement weather that is typical in Ontario.

Lesson 3: Technology integration as a differentiator

I truly felt like a kid in a candy store during the tour when we passed by the automated welding robots and Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) cycling through the plant, delivering assemblies to different work cells for production. I couldn’t help but think about the cost avoidance and productivity gains that OEMs and other companies reap from such technology initiatives. As we continue to see more and more examples of robotics used in various applications, from typical welding, paint spray booths, to lifting heavy materials to reduce work injury, robotics is not going away.

But it doesn’t end there. There are so many other opportunities to leverage readily available technology. Manufacturing organizations typically have some kind of a static stand-up team board where KPIs are reviewed and discussed prior to every shift. As a start, why not switch from archaic paper-based methods to real-time dashboards with LED TVs that team members can readily interact with?

Each of these tools ultimately help team members scale their capabilities, avoid injury, and make better decisions to improve the quality of products and services they are responsible for. With smartphones everywhere these days, I am surprised that the old paradigm in the manufacturing world has not caught on to allow enterprise applications to run on these devices, thereby helping shop floor personnel do their jobs more effectively, with better quality, and safely. There’s definitely room to improve across the board and those firms that are able to effectively integrate current and emerging technologies will continue to benefit.

Lesson 4: Professional development goes a long way

At the outset of planning the TMMC plant tour with two of my colleagues, I don’t think we realized how valuable the tour would be. At first it seemed like we’d conduct a simple plant visit. It grew, however, to include an interactive lecture prior to the tour, along with two additional hours of presentations by our 47 staff members on what they learned and how they would pitch Intelex’s products and services to help Toyota solve a problem that they thought we could help them with. To learn more about Intelex and integrated management systems, view our on-demand webinar “Integrated Management System – is it Right for You?”.

To me, the last activity where we observed what our team members were able to learn and apply was astounding. I was so proud of them. I did not expect the level of thought and detail that the team put into their pitch presentations. At the same time, it was fun and collaborative, and our team members got to meet some new people in other areas of the business with whom they would not usually interact. They all did a fantastic job! It goes to show that you don’t need to sign up for an expensive seminar or bring in a costly speaker to help your team members learn and grow. Sometimes, all it takes is a little leadership from within to help many learn, grow, and improve.

I’d like to personally thank Toyota TMMC for giving us the opportunity to attend the public tour as well as Intelex’s Mike Soro, Vice-President, Customer Engagement and Simrit Rye, Client Enterprise Director, for helping to make the tour a success for our staff. It was a great learning opportunity and we received positive feedback from those who attended about what they saw and learned and how it will help them in their roles.

This entry was posted in EHSQ, Health & Safety Management, Quality & Supplier Management and tagged , , , , , , , by Peter-Elias Alouche. Bookmark the permalink.

About Peter-Elias Alouche

Peter has primarily worked in the manufacturing and energy sectors with past experience in industrial inkjet systems, injection molding systems, electrical distribution, electrical transmission, and power generation, and database development. Over the last 14 years, he has learned about product design, inventory management, Quality Management, New Product Development, database development, and Project Management. During the summer months, you'll probably find Peter playing beach volleyball, at a golf course, or relaxing in a hammock. In the winter, he enjoys playing ice hockey, skating, skiing, ping pong, pool, and watching the Leafs. Always trying to learn new things by staying current with what's happening in business and technology by reading Popular Science, Harvard Business Review, Futurism, Tech Crunch, and Wired.

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