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Toyota leverages lean manufacturing and innovations to close electric vehicle race gap

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As Toyota seeks to catch up in the electric vehicle (EV) race and compete with market leaders like Tesla, the world’s largest automaker is blending its renowned lean manufacturing principles with cutting-edge technologies and innovations.

The company recently offered a behind-the-scenes look at its latest advancements during a plant tour in central Japan, unveiling strategies to boost efficiency and reduce costs in EV production.

Toyota, a pioneer in lean production, has long been associated with just-in-time delivery and efficient workflow organization. The automaker believes it can apply these principles to its EV manufacturing processes to level the playing field with competitors.

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Key highlights from Toyota’s recent innovations include:

  1. Self-Propelled Production Lines: Toyota is introducing self-propelled assembly lines guided by sensors, eliminating the need for traditional conveyor equipment. This innovative approach not only reduces assembly line costs but also offers greater flexibility in production.
  2. Gigacasting Technology: Inspired by Tesla’s gigacasting, Toyota is producing aluminum parts on a larger scale. By leveraging its expertise in die-casting, Toyota has developed molds that can be quickly replaced, reducing mold change time from 24 hours to just 20 minutes. This innovation is expected to boost productivity by 20 percent.
  3. Automation: The company is introducing robotics and 3D modeling to automate three-decade-old equipment used in parts processing, tripling equipment productivity. This increased efficiency is critical to meeting the demands of the EV market.
  4. Autonomous Transport Robots: Toyota is deploying self-driving transport robots at its Motomachi plant, which will transport new vehicles across large parking lots—a task traditionally handled by human drivers. This innovation reduces the physical burden on workers and enhances efficiency in the logistics process.

Toyota acknowledges that it has been somewhat slow in embracing fully electric technology, accounting for only about 0.3% of the global EV market in 2022. However, the automaker is actively addressing this gap under new CEO Koji Sato, with ambitious plans to accelerate its EV offerings.

In the transition to EVs, Toyota is not alone in facing competitive pressures. Detroit’s Big Three automakers are also responding to the challenges posed by companies like Tesla, which have redefined industry norms and profitability.

Toyota’s approach of blending time-tested lean production methods with cutting-edge innovations underscores the company’s commitment to staying at the forefront of the rapidly evolving automotive industry.

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