Australia’s biggest car manufacturer Toyota earning almost $1.3 billion in export income
Innovation is apparent across all parts of the company’s operation – suppliers, procurement, development and design, production, logistics, dealerships, disposal and recycling. And collaboration is an important part of Toyota’s continuous improvement process, which includes a focus on energy saving measures. Underpinning all of this is strong staff involvement and engagement.
In Australia Toyota currently builds three models – Camry, Camry Hybrid and Aurion, with the Altona manufacturing plant incorporating state-of-the-art weld, paint and assembly. More than half the Camry and Aurion vehicles manufactured at the Altona plant are exported overseas, to 13 markets in the Middle East, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
Toyota will continue to manufacture cars until the end of 2017, which is when manufacturing of vehicles will cease in this country. It will continue a presence at the Altona site, and is establishing a Centre of Excellence that will continue to provide innovation skills and manufacturing knowledge to local companies. This will be Toyota’s legacy to Melbourne’s west.
Andreas Kammel, Toyota’s Environment Policy Manager, explained how innovation works throughout the company.
“To innovate, first of all we have to measure our impact. Then we make sure we do things better through our three key drivers: Kaizen (delivering small improvements through innovation), Hoshin (breakthrough innovation that makes a significant difference) and Yokoten (sharing ideas across the region and globally).
“An example of continuous innovation is the way we paint cars. At first we painted them by hand using solvent-based paint. Then to improve accuracy, we introduced robotics. From there we improved the paint by finding a water-based solution, and that was followed by cartridge robots, which means we don’t need to wash paint out of the machinery each time we change colours.
“Globally we’re working on big vehicle innovations too – even more innovative cars such as new hybrids, plug-in hybrid vehicles, fully electric vehicles and hydrogen-fuelled cars that will emit nothing but water.”
Collaboration is an important part of how Toyota operates. The company has a very strong supplier development team, because they believe it is in their interests to share knowledge and technology to ensure those suppliers work as efficiently and productively as possible.
“A good example of our innovation combined with collaboration is a world first. In partnership with the EPA, we developed a biological treatment of sludge,” said Andreas. “In this procedure bacteria are used to remove paint from contaminated water so that this can be re-used in the production process.
“And we’ve recently extended our sharing of knowledge to Northern Health, who are adapting some of our processes in their discharge and pharmacy areas. We’ll continue to share this knowledge with other private and not-for-profit organisations through our Centre of Excellence.”
Toyota recognises that the expert on any process is the operator, as they do the task 300 times a day. They offer opportunities for work teams to present improvement ideas to engineers. All staff have the authority to stop the line and fix problems. The company ensures it rewards people who come forward with great ideas, and they get to share those ideas across the Asia-Pacific and globally.
Implementing energy saving measures is an ongoing activity for Toyota, and they are continually seeking ways to reduce or replace fossil fuels.
“We constantly monitor and measure our use of energy,” explained Andreas. “Using a non-production ratio, we recently found that there was a considerable amount of energy used when machines were left on while not in use, for example during lunch breaks or shift changes. Now we’ve fixed wiring, trained staff and saved on outage.
“Each year we have an Energy Treasure Hunt. We ask for volunteers to take on extra training and we direct them to the factory to look for energy improvement ideas. We need people with an open mind and often we send them to areas they are unfamiliar with. Last year, suggestions identified 300,000 kWh in savings and we’re hoping for similar results this year.
“Lighting is another area currently under review. Mostly our production area operates with 450 watt downlights. Now we’re trialling LED technology that gives us the same amount of light using 130 to 140 watts. That’s a saving in excess of 60%. If successful, we’ll roll that out across the other areas of the business too.”
Toyota’s export program is unique. The company is the largest car exporter in Australia and the largest manufacturing exporter in terms of value. Andreas believes that it all comes down to planning, knowing the markets, and being able to compete on quality and price with other Toyota sites around the world.
“We’re proud of our export history, as it’s not easy for us to win or maintain big orders. For example, the Camry is built by seven other sites around the world and our competitors are also vying for contracts. It’s been more difficult in recent years because of the high Australian dollar.
“We’ve developed strong relationships with our partners in the Middle East and are proud that we’ve never missed a shipment. Our goal is to make sure our customers always get what they want. That’s what keeps them coming back to us.”