My First Visit to the Toyota Truck Plant in San Antonio (TMMTX)

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Wednesday, I had the chance to go (with a Lean club from Austin) to TMMTX – or Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, the truck factory in San Antonio. Thanks to those organizers (including Andrew Cahoon and R.D. Childers) and thanks especially to Toyota for their openness.

There was a lot to absorb and I'm still mentally digesting much of it, so I'll write a number of blog posts over the next few weeks as I did with my NUMMI tour of five years ago.

Today, I'll share some real high-level perceptions that I'll elaborate on soon.

The high-level thoughts:

On-site Suppliers: This is the first of the six U.S. Toyota plants to have 21 suppliers in connected buildings or in a directly adjacent supplier park (a “Team Texas” compound that's 2 miles wide and 4 miles long).

Safety Focus: There was a constant and strong primary focus on safety, at almost every step and everywhere you looked – both for employees and a constant attentiveness to visitor safety. That's a core manifestation of Toyota's “Respect for People” principle, a theme that was emphasized strongly in the visitor center and the tour. It was a reminder of the way factories, generally, have more of a primary organizational and leadership focus on safety, compared to most hospitals.

No Layoffs: There was real pride in the voices of our hosts about how the plant didn't lay off any permanent employees, while having stopped production temporarily in late 2008 due to the massive sales drop in the financial crisis. Employees went through basic skills training and TPS training, also being given time to volunteer in the community. A lot of capability and loyalty was built up amongst the workers and the community through that.

Quick Ramp up of Tacoma: When GM pulled out of the NUMMI plant last year, that left Toyota very little time to find a place to build the smaller Tacoma pickups. Toyota had to move tooling and equipment to San Antonio to build the trucks right on the same line as the larger Tundra pickups. Toyota quickly hired 1,000 people and had production up and running in record time. They absorbed the new production AND thousands of new components WITHOUT adding more physical space.

Poka Yoke AND Inspection: Toyota is known for “mistake proofing” or “error proofing” processes, building in quality at the source. Toyota emphasized how each employee is their own quality inspector, yet they also bragged about the number of inspections at the end of the line and how their bright lights exceeded industry standards, allowing them to see visible defects that other companies might miss. It goes to show that while inspection isn't always 100% effective, if you don't yet have a perfect process, then you can't be idealistic and just scrap inspection. Protecting the customer is the best thing, even if costly inspection is the best way to provide near-perfect quality at the moment.

I'll write more about their public visitor's center and the tour itself. While we had a lot of time to walk and ask questions during my NUMMI tour, this was a relatively quick tour via a tram through the plant. We got to see a lot, but it was a blur… lots to take in and lots to write about.


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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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