Toyota has earned a reputation over many decades as a company that meticulously and tirelessly pursues constant improvement.
This philosophical approach to manufacturing is even summed up in one word: kaizen. One of the core principles of The Toyota Production System, kaizen is a quest for continuous improvement and the one-word embodiment of the company’s slogan, “Always a Better Way.”
There are many ways this philosophy manifests itself, and one of those ways is through continual reinvestment into Toyota manufacturing plants. On August 13, 2020, Japan’s largest automaker (and No. 2 in the world, just behind Volkswagen) announced an $830 million investment to upgrade its technology and provide enhanced training of workers at a massive joint-venture plant in Huntsville, Alabama.
Up to 4,000 employees in Alabama will be the direct beneficiaries of this investment, which was officially announced by the unique Mazda Toyota Manufacturing (MTM) partnership that runs the large plant in Northern Alabama. Total funding on site there now stands at $2.311 billion, up substantially from the $1.6 billion that MTM had initially unveiled back in 2018.
The new investment will modernize the production line and improve various manufacturing processes at the MTM facility. The new plant will have the capacity to produce up to 150,000 units of a future Mazda crossover vehicle and up to 150,000 units of a Toyota SUV each year.
About 600 employees have been hired to date on site, but MTM plans to employ up to 4,000 workers there upon buildout and full production.
“Mazda Toyota Manufacturing is proud to call Alabama home,” said Mark Brazeal, vice president of administration at MTM. “Through strong support from our state and local partners, we have been able to further incorporate cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, provide world-class training for team members and develop the highest quality production processes. As we prepare for the start of production next year, we look forward to developing our future workforce and serving as a hometown company for many years to come.”
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, who played a pivotal role in recruiting MTM, said, “The newest investment by our partners at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing shows the company’s continued confidence in the ability of our community to provide a strong, skilled workforce to meet the demands for quality and reliability. We look forward to the day when the first vehicles roll off the line.”
Full-scale construction of the plant continues, with 75 to 100% completion on roofing, siding, floor slabs, ductwork, fire protection and electrical. The company plans to resume accepting applications for production positions in late 2020.
The kaizen system forms the foundation of all Toyota training. According to Toyota, this philosophy helps to ensure maximum quality, elimination of waste, and improvements in efficiency. Kaizen improvements in standardized work help maximize productivity at every worksite. It also empowers individual workers to identify areas for improvement and suggest practical solutions.
Lately, this approach has reached even the local high schools in Northern Alabama. Toyota representatives currently are working with Huntsville’s KTECH program to provide workforce training support and advanced technology capabilities to the engine plant team in Huntsville.
KTECH was launched in 2016 as a workforce development program to target young adults who have aged out of the foster care system. The program has since been widened to serve anyone in the community who could benefit from learning these skills. The goal is to provide certified skills training to community residents who can then apply those skills to pursue high-wage jobs. It has also become a highly regarded workforce training model in the community.
KTECH began training the first Toyota plant team members in August 2020.