Toyota’s Lean Manufacturing Reinvention: Self-Driving Cars and Gigacasting for Next-Generation EVs

Toyota Motor Corp. is taking lessons from Tesla and rethinking its manufacturing processes to improve its ability to produce electric vehicles (EVs). Tesla revolutionized the industry with its low-cost, efficient production engineering, and now Toyota is aiming to incorporate these principles into its own factories. The company plans to introduce new techniques, including self-driving cars that can navigate factories without assembly lines, in order to speed up production and launch a new generation of EVs by 2026.

Toyota’s focus on continuous improvement, known as kaizen, has always been at the heart of its manufacturing philosophy. While acknowledging Tesla’s innovative technology, Toyota aims to improve upon it through its own approach of kaizen rather than simply copying what the American automaker has done. Toyota believes that its Toyota Production System, which invented lean manufacturing, still has untapped potential that can be harnessed to increase efficiency and catch up with Tesla.

The company plans to halve the number of production processes, plant investment, and production lead time needed to set up for new vehicles. These improvements will be part of Toyota’s new “BEV-first mindset” as it aims to sell 3.5 million EVs annually by 2030. This ambitious goal requires Toyota to rethink its manufacturing strategies and find new ways to compete with newer brands like Tesla and China’s BYD, which have already disrupted the industry with their low-cost manufacturing approaches.

One of the key strategies Toyota plans to implement is gigacasting, a technique pioneered by Tesla. Gigacasting involves casting the vehicle’s front and back as two large modules, which eliminates the need for countless parts. Toyota is prototyping a way to stamp these sections as one piece, thus simplifying the manufacturing process. The company is also exploring the use of gigapresses, which allow for faster and more efficient production. Toyota believes that gigacasting will improve manufacturing efficiency by 20%, enabling the production of 20% more vehicles with the same amount of materials and processes.

In addition to gigacasting, Toyota is also considering self-driving cars within its factories. The company already uses this approach at its Motomachi assembly plant, where the bZ4X EV drives itself from final assembly to final inspection. Toyota plans to extend this self-driving mode throughout the entire final assembly process, allowing the vehicle to move to where its various parts are located instead of bringing the parts to the car. This will reduce the need for fixed conveyors and further streamline the production process.

While Toyota is known for its successful track record and corporate culture, it recognizes the need to adapt and embrace new manufacturing techniques to remain competitive in the rapidly evolving automotive industry. The company’s new approach, encapsulated in its BEV Factory, shows a commitment to change and a willingness to learn from competitors like Tesla. By implementing these new strategies, Toyota hopes to regain its position as a leader in the transition to electric vehicles and secure its future in the industry.

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