Toyota Combines Lean Manufacturing and New Technology to Catch Up in the Electric Vehicle Market

Toyota, the world’s top-selling automaker, is implementing self-propelled assembly lines, die casting, and traditional hand polishing techniques in its factories to close the gap with electric vehicle (EV) leader Tesla. By combining its famous lean production methods with new technology and innovations, Toyota aims to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and increase production in the EV market.

During a recent plant tour in Japan, Toyota showcased its latest advances, including a technique to produce high-gloss bumpers without paint. The automaker achieved this by hand-polishing the bumper mold to create a mirror-like finish. Additionally, Toyota has automated three-decade-old equipment using robotics and 3D modeling, tripling equipment productivity and enabling production to run continuously, even during nights and weekends.

Chief Product Officer Kazuaki Shingo emphasized Toyota’s ability to adapt to changing times, citing the strength of the Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS, which includes lean production, just-in-time delivery, and Kanban workflow organization, revolutionized modern manufacturing and has been widely adopted in various industries.

Under the leadership of CEO Koji Sato, Toyota announced a plan to ramp up production of EVs, addressing criticism that the company was slow to embrace fully electric technology. In 2022, Toyota accounted for only 0.3% of the global EV market, according to Goldman Sachs. To strengthen its EV lineup, Toyota aims to develop a stronger offering and catch up with competitors like Tesla.

One of Toyota’s key innovations is the implementation of self-propelled production lines, where EVs are guided by sensors through the assembly process. This technology eliminates the need for conveyor equipment and allows for greater flexibility in production. Toyota also showcased its prototype of “gigacasting” die-casting technology, which produces larger aluminum parts for EV manufacturing. By using modular sections and quickly replaceable molds, Toyota estimates a 20% boost in productivity.

To further enhance efficiency, Toyota introduced a self-driving transport robot at its Motomachi plant. The robot ferries new vehicles across a parking lot, a task typically done by human drivers. By reducing the physical burden on drivers and improving efficiency, Toyota aims to increase productivity and reduce turnaround time.

Toyota plans to have ten robots operating at the Motomachi plant by next year and may consider implementing them in other plants. The automaker is also open to selling these robots to other companies, offering a solution to the challenges faced by the automotive industry in transitioning to EV production.

Sources: Reuters