Had an amazing experience visiting the Toyota Plant few days ago! The Altona based plant is Toyota’s only manufacturing unit in Australia, running since 1994! Toyota produces three models here: Camry, Aurion and Hybrid. At the time of writing, the plant manufactures 407 cars every single day, work being done in two shifts!
We were shown the Body Shop, where the main body, doors etc are made and the Assembly line where the whole car is assembled (seats, carpets, engine)! The tour was about 2 hours long and involved a walk of around 3 kms.
Seeing the robots perform welding and moving the car parts to and from the line is astonishing! The whole workshop area has got magnetic strips and you can see automatic vehicles moving parts from here and there everywhere! The assemble line is maintained to perfection and the work is shared between humans and robots (Robots perform 80% work in this area). Paint shop was another area dominated by robots, most of paints are done by robots using spray painting method! This was my first experience seeing so much automation and that too at Toyota, who are one of the pioneers!
Their assembly line is amazingly disciplined! Everything stops at a station for a precalculated amount of time which can be as low as few seconds, humans/robots perform the task and it moves forward. They use Kanban tickets to buy parts from third party suppliers and overseas suppliers. The seats coming to the plant are arranged in a specific order in the truck itself so as to match the cars moving on the assembly line! They are just taken out directly on the line which moves parallel to the line with finished cars where they are manually fitted in the cars. This is just one example of how organised they are! Some areas even have designated music to distinguish between different situations like smooth operation, risk, failures etc!
We all know Software Industry has adopted all the principles of Continuous Delivery, Continuous improvement, Lean Principles etc from Automobile Industry. The plant had physical walls , boards, status charts, electronic boards to visualise the success and progress! Seeing how things work there, the software industry is far from perfection! But an important difference between these two industries is the nature of their operating environment. Toyota produces 407 cars a day, which are ALL same, it’s a repetitive process producing the same thing over years, which makes it much easily automatable. Whereas, the software industry has a much more dynamic environment, with a lot of unpredictable things/risks, feedback from customers. So, their continuous delivery pipeline is much more prone to interruptions.
It was a unique experience!