Toyota’s efficient forklift ops


By JAMES CHONG in Nagoya

THE secret of Toyota's success is its tested production system, which emphasises efficiency and non-wastage. It basically consists of two techniques: kaizen or continual improvement, and “just in time” production.  

In kaizen, Toyota is constantly looking for ways to improve production and lower costs. 

Just-in-time production literally means just that – you will get the order exactly on time fresh from the plant, and not old stock. It helps Toyota have the flexibility, efficiency and cost control to produce the best products. It eliminates wastage and overproduction, which requires storage. 

Toyota's Takahama plant in Nagoya.

The Toyota and BT group, part of Toyota Industries Corp of Japan (Tico), is one of the big three forklift manufacturers in the world. And the Takahama plant in Nagoya is among the world's largest factory specialising in industrial equipment. With a total area of 329,000 sq m, the plant produces a wide range of equipment, including forklifts, cranes, skid-steer loaders and towing tractors. Takahama also produces the latest in material handling system products such as automatic rack sorters and automatic guided vehicles. 

Toyota and BT Industries of Sweden (which was acquired in 2000) combined held about 25% of the world forklift market share last year. Its closest rival, Linde group of Europe, held about 20%. The total world market comprised about 500,000 vehicles, according to Kenji Sagawa, the general manager of Tico's overseas sales marketing department at a briefing in the Takahama plant last Monday.  

Sagawa said that for this year, about 31,000 units would be for the Asian market, with about 8,000 for China.  

Tico has a joint-venture plant in Kunshan, China's Jiangsu province, in which it holds 70%. Toyota Industry (Kunshan) Co Ltd or TIK produces only 60 units a year at its present capacity. 

“China is a very large but competitive market,” said Sagawa. The locally produced forklifts are much cheaper, he noted but added: “However, the market potential warrants our presence there.” 

The Malaysian market for forklifts is about 2,500 units last year, and Toyota has 58% of the cake, according to a JIVA market survey. 

In Japan, Toyota holds a 41%-42% market share, with its closest rival being Komatsu.  

Globally, 40% are battery-operated forklifts and 60% are engine-operated with diesel and compressed natural gas as fuel. The engine-powered Toyota 7 series of forklifts range from one to five tonnes while the quieter, pollution-free electric ones include the counter-balance and reach types (1 to 3.5 tonnes). 

Tico has to date eight plants in Japan alone (in Takahama, Kariya, Nagakusa, Hekinan, Kyowa, Higashi-Chita and Higashiura) spread over the main Japanese island of Honshu 

During a visit to the Takahama plant last week, a group of Malaysian journalists were briefed by Tsugumi Nagai, general manager of production control, on how the usage of the kanban (production cards) and andon (lighting board) helped to improve production efficiency. 

On the kanban is marked the technical requirements and items installed in the production line for forklifts. It saves time by eliminating referrals and doubts on the parts assembled. The andon, high up in the centre of the production area, depicts basically the numbers regarding the production line, and lights up whenever there is a problem in a certain section. Line leaders then rushes to rectify it or even shut down the section if necessary. 

The application of kanban and andon shows the systematic way the plant is run and also the priority on employee safety of the corporation. 

Toyota incorporates leading technologies into the design of state-of-the-art forklifts and industrial equipment, for example, the System of Active Stability (SAS). The first SAS is the “active control rear stabiliser” where sensors signal when the forklift's centre of gravity is moving out of the safety range. The controller then locks the rear axle, increasing its stability zone. 

The second is the “active mast control” where it automatically detects load weight and height, and controls the mast front tilt angle. SAS adjusts mast rear tilt speed at high mast elevation. 

Lastly, the “automatic fork level control” levels forks at the push of a button. 

The material handling group spends about US$15mil a year in Japan on advertising and only US$5mil overseas as most of the advertising is carried by the distributors themselves. 

Tico has most of the ISO certifications such as the ISO14001 and 9001; and won the PM excellent plant award in 1990 and the Deming Prize (total quality management) in 1986. 

Logistics solution to market the forklifts 

The flow of excellence 

Toyota’s efficient forklift operations

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