The forklift manufacturing plant of Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing Inc. (TIEM) in Columbus, Indiana

In the heart of Columbus, Indiana stands a 25-year-old manufacturing facility that produces about 99% of all Toyota forklifts sold in North America, having grown from 280,000 square feet to more than one million square feet since opening in 1990. With more than 800 people working together, the facility builds on average 160 units a day, producing over 30,000 Toyota lift trucks per year which are then exported to 20 countries.

Aside from its remarkable productivity, the Columbus plant is also notable for its versatility. More than 60 different models of electric lift trucks are produced there, plus a variety of internal combustion lift trucks with a capacity ranging from 3,000 to 17,000 pounds. On the 126-acre facility, three assembly lines are running at all times with various operations that include metal fabrication, assembly, welding, powder coating, and distribution. But beyond its high-output and complex operations, the plant stands out for three operating features: lean operations, teamwork, and a commitment to kaizen, Toyota’s signature term denoting continuous improvement.

To keep these basic principles in effect, the employees and team leaders in the Columbus plant maintain a daily schedule peppered with ongoing short meetings designed to keep everyone on the same page and in full coordination. The morning begins with a full team meeting in each work area where attendance is taken, following by a discussion centered on the schedule for the day ahead, any issues that may have an impact on safety or product quality, company news, and improvement ideas.

After the first meeting ends, team leaders gather together to quickly discuss attendance and form a plan to make sure any work gaps are covered. Using a skill matrix chart, they make sure that skills sets are deployed in a way that helps every group meet its production requirements. Every two hours during the shift, team leaders reconvene to make sure production needs are being met and progress is staying on track.

At the end of the shift, the entire area meets again as a group to discuss the challenges of the day, including production problems, temporary fixes, plans for permanent corrective measures, and scheduled deadlines. In accordance with the principles of kaizen, the plant requests three improvement ideas per associate per month. The ideas don’t have to be revolutionary; they just need to indicate a constant focus on small improvements that can help the company grow.

Such a dedicated focus on improvement and customer service is what allows the plant to deliver a large number of customized trucks. Even though the facility produces standard products, nearly 75% of all forklifts are built with components used to satisfy specific customer needs. While this type of production presents daily challenges to the plant’s line balancing and material delivery, the proven market share gains and customer satisfaction over the years more than support the chosen strategy.

For more information on how the Columbus plant embodies the principles of Toyota, and how you can use these concepts to improve your own productivity, reach out to the team at Liftow.