Section 7. The Functions that Supported Globalization
Item 3. Further Improvement of Monozukuri
Construction of innovative lines - GBL, etc.
Toyota introduced its Flexible Body Line (FBL) in 1985. In 1996, development of its Global Body Line (GBL) for vehicle body welding began.
FBL allowed several vehicle models to be sent along the line at the same time and shortened the time required to change jigs when switching between models, raising productivity and accuracy significantly. However, this method was suited to mass production plants, and was not profitable at plants in countries with a small production output. There was a need for a new type of line that could be used at plants outside Japan to respond flexibly to the expansion of production bases and demand fluctuations.
GBL was tested on small-lot lines at Toyota Motor Vietnam, Co., Ltd., which began production in 1996, and, in Japan, on production lines for the first-generation Prius which went on sale in December 1997. The lines were further expanded to full-scale mass production with manufacture of the Vitz launched in January 1999, and deployed to plants outside Japan as a global line capable of handling production of any scale-from extremely small lots through to mass production. Digital engineering using 3D data was also employed in the design of GBL facilities, shortening the development period to two years compared to the four years taken to develop FBL.
Testing of the Set Parts Supply System (SPS) for simplifying the assembly process began in 2002 as part of the BT2 initiative aimed at reducing in-house production costs at plants. The system separated the parts selection and assembly processes, with the parts required for each vehicle selected and gathered into a set in a yard separate from the assembly line before being sent to line operators.
Line operators were able to focus solely on assembly processes and were able to master the required processes in a shorter time. This method was particularly effective in securing quality levels during changeover in vehicle models and stabilizing output rate. SPS was first introduced in 2005 on the refurbished Tsutsumi Plant lines, and, from 2006, introduced at plants both in and outside Japan when constructing new plants or remodeling existing ones.
As globalization took place in the production divisions, there became an increasing need for mass production lines that could produce high-quality products and be operated around the world by a diverse range of workers. In response to such needs of the times, for the production of compact cars, TMC set about building a revolutionary new line at its Takaoka Plant, aiming not only for world leading quality and cost competitiveness, but also to reduce environmental impact. Remodeling of the plant's No.1 Line began in 2006, utilizing a variety of new technologies. Firstly, the moving and vehicle installation of heavy objects, and other tasks that placed a heavy physical burden on employees, was supported by assistive robots, in "symbiotic automation between humans and robots." Secondly, sophisticated automated inspection utilizing high-sensitivity cameras and sensors was employed. Thirdly, SPS was fully utilized in the assembly process. As a result, in August 2007 Toyota completed development of its fastest-ever line, which was capable of producing a vehicle every 50 seconds. A line with the same specifications was introduced at the No. 2 plant of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada, Inc., which began operation at the end of 2008, and, with limited staff and development time, TMC's production engineering and manufacturing divisions gave their utmost effort in order to get the new line up and running.
However, the introduction of such innovative new lines also raised several problematic issues, such as an increase in the company's investment expenditure and roll-out to plants outside Japan before performance at domestic plants had been properly verified.
Meanwhile, a facility aimed at consolidating vehicle production engineering development functions and performing sufficient validation during the development stage was constructed on the Motomachi Plant site and commenced operation in January 2009.