November 22, 2007

Have you ever heard about ‘Just-in-Time’? Or ‘Lean Manufacturing’? Or ‘Toyota Way’?
Boeing is basically crazy about lean journey right now, so when I was planning for my trip, one of the options that came up was to go to Toyota Plant in Nagoya since it’s in between Tokyo and Osaka anyway. And no, we are a Honda family. XDD

It wasn’t until I decided to visit Toyota plant in Nagoya that I realized “OMG! I’m going LEAN outside the office, during my vacation break, and that has nothing to do with my diet!!” *LOL* Kinda scary, work followed me to Japan!!

I actually asked the girls to go with me, but they were like:

I-san: Nagoya?! Why would you want to go there?!
me: urrr.. Toyota plant tour?
A-I-T: not interested
me: ummm… chicken wings?
A-san: you can eat chicken wings anywhere!
me: *pouts* okie, I’ll go by myself

So I added one extra day to my trip, that way I could go visit Toyota plant prior to meeting up with the girls.

Anyway, I think Toyota made it easy and tough at the same time. Their website provides pretty detailed information regarding the tour and Toyota Kaikan (Exhibition Hall). But in order to reserve your spot on the tour, you’ll have to call to make a reservation, then they’ll send you an application form via email, then you’ll have to either email them back or fax it over to their reservation center. A week or so prior to your trip, Toyota will call your contact number in Japan to confirm that you’ll show up on that day. I think that’s quite a hassle and I admit that I probably wouldn’t decide to go if I don’t have A-san taking care of everything for me *smooches A-san*

I had to arrive at Toyota Kaikan by 10:30am. Nagoya station is less than 2 hours away from Tokyo. But Toyota Kaikan is about an hour away from Nagoya station. I’d have to take either 2 local trains then a taxi or 3 local trains then a walk to get there. Of course, being a cheapo, I went for the latter! Oh and please don’t forget to add some ‘Lost Tourist’ time as well!

So I had to wake up really early, check out from the hotel, and catch a train to Nagoya in the morning. Luckily, I checked the weather forecast before I left Seattle, so I made a last minute change by brining my wool coat with me instead of the planned ‘light jacket’. It was freezing cold in the morning!! Shinkansen ride was smooth and fast. I was confused a little bit at Nagoya station since I had to basically get out of the station and cross the street to the local train line instead.

Since this was Toyota City, most street names had to have the word ‘Toyota’ attached to them which made it super hard to decipher when I looked at the out-of-scale map!

Mini Toyota Basics:
* 15 plants in Japan
* 12 of them located in Toyota City
* All suppliers are less than an hour away
* While production in Japan is quite stable, overseas plants production units in 2006 tripled the numbers in 1995

I arrived at the Toyota Kaikan only a few minutes before the meeting time. Our guide, Yayoi-san, was a cute young Japanese lady. I bet a lot of our group members were drooling while walking after her~ *LOL* When I did my research on Toyota Plant Tour, I’ve read it from several blogs and reviews that Toyota will try their best to make you feel special. Anyway, I walked around the Kaikan just to get the idea, and saw this! *feels special already* XDD

The 2-hour plant tour started from Toyota Kaikan. We took a bus to Tsutsumi Plant, where we got to see their welding shop and assembly line. Guests had a choice between Japanese, English or Chinese. The best part? It’s free!! LOL

On the way to Tsutsumi plant, I saw this cutest thing in Toyota City. A Honda dealer!! xD It really looked out of place. Too bad, there’s no Toyota street sign in front of the dealer.

Tsutsumi plant was about 20 minutes away from Toyota Kaikan, with 6,000+ employees and over 1 million square meters space. It’s main production models are Camry, Premio, Allion and Prius. Since we’re not allowed to take pictures inside the plant, this is the only one I took before we reached our destination.

Basically, the production process would be: Stamping → Welding → Painting → Assemble

Welding shop:
* 97% robots
* weld about 400 body parts to form a car
* handle multiple models on a single line
* produce precisely finished car bodies

Assembly Line:
* focused on worker-friendly environment
* 30 seconds tact time! OMG! The line is really moving! xD (if you’ve seen 777 moving line before, you wouldn’t be surprised why I was so excited to see the real moving line. In airplane production, the line probably move about 2mm per minute xD You actually have to stand there for an hour to actually see that it moved!)
* final inspection – over 1,000 check points by hand

It was really a great experience seeing these stuff but too bad, camera wasn’t allowed inside the plant. After the tour, we came back to the Kaikan again. There was 7 exhibit zones: Hybrid, Safety, Motor Sports, Showroom, etc.

My favorite: Kids zone ^^

This robot played [What a Wonderful World]!!

My attempt at having my own picture while traveling alone, from inside the above super cool SC430! XD

I was thinking about going to Toyota Automobile Museum, but going there would be quite hectic since I didn’t have a car. Taking a bus could take hours. Taking a cab could be very expensive according to Yayoi-san. And taking a train would require 2 extra transfers. It was mid-afternoon already, and the museum opened till only 5pm, so I admitted to myself that I’m not a big fan of old cars, and decided to go back to Nagoya station instead. LOL

Being a Queen of Plan B, instead of taking the same route back to Nagoya station, I went the other route which would take only one transfer (instead of 2 or 3). I couldn’t even remember the name of the station I went to for a transfer, and for a second, I thought I was lost XDD Thank goodness for the Oji-san at that station, he told me that I was on the right track heading for Nagoya! Phew~ ^^’

I then caught a Shinkansen to Shinosaka station, walked around and found my hotel. I forgot to take a picture, but my room was quite oxymoron, with a [no smoking] sign and an ashtray right next to each other. xD I went out to grab some food, then came back to the hotel, trying to start writing a report, but ended up passing out instead. XD

Definitely couldn’t wait for tomorrow, when I’d get to meet up with the gang again! ^___^


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