How Can an Average-Sized Company Benefit from Toyota’s Cost Reduction Initiative?

posted on: Tuesday January 29, 2013

Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Kentucky (TMMK) made a big splash in the world of Manual Material Handling last year. By converting manual tuggers and implementing Automated Guided Carts and Vehicles, the plant was able to yield some impressive results. Their initiative can act as a model for other plants that are looking to reduce costs and boost productivity. However, the facility is 7.5 million square feet in size; can the Toyota model translate to a smaller-scaled application?

The plant launched a lean cost reduction initiative in 2006. They were able to successfully improve their parts delivery system without losing any team members. Not only did everyone keep their jobs, 42 team members moved into higher value jobs.  Toyota found that by automating their delivery system, employees had more time to devote to other parts of their jobs, increasing throughput. Here is an overview of the changes the plant made:

  • Converted manually-operated tuggers into Automatic Guided Tuggers (AGTs). The change was made because when operated manually, if the tuggers were not lined up correctly to the cart, employees had to use force to engage the rack with the dolly. *According to Paul Stafford, specialist in bodyweld production engineering and the AGV implementation engineering lead, this force caused “wear and tear on the rack and an ergonomic burden on the team member.” Toyota initially converted 5 tuggers. After about a month and a half, their total converted tuggers equaled 22.
  • Installed 79 Automatic Guided Carts (AGCs). These carts are not capable of moving as much material as the tuggers. However, they proved very efficient at moving subassemblies distances of 200 meters or less. There are three different types of AGCs transporting finished subassemblies.
  • Implemented 4 other Automatic Guided Vehicles to move shell body parts. These are confined to specific areas of the plant.

The initiative resulted in higher productivity and a less expensive process:

  • The body weld department boasts several million dollars in annual savings
  • The plant estimates that it is saving several million dollars a year in labor. ACGs are sparing employees two miles of floor travel every shift. This totals up to 978 fewer miles traveled each year. Stafford said, “On that process alone, we were able to get almost two years’ worth of production reductions just by removing wasted travel.”
  • With the extra space the AGVs have afforded, TMMK has increased the number of assembly lines per space from 12 to 16.

Clearly, the automatic guided vehicles brought great success to this Toyota Plant. Other large facilities may find that adding automated tuggers and carts will help them, too, but what about the average to small sized facilities? Have they anything to gain from TMMK’s example?

While TMMK automated their tuggers because of the effort it took to connect the parts, this is not always the case in other industries and applications. In fact, most modern tuggers are often chosen because of how easily they can be tailored to fit any cart. Automated carts may be useful in some settings, but as TMMK found, they can’t be used to transport larger, heavier loads. Tuggers like Load Movers are designed to reduce pushing and pulling forces on loads from 1,000 to 50,000 pounds. They are also even smaller than the AGTs.

Powered tugs are also a popular alternative to lift trucks. Not only are forklifts five times more expensive than tugs, forklift operators cost five times more than those who can operate a tug, which is anyone.

Research has shown that powered tugs are also highly successful at reducing injuries. Pushing and pulling actions account for a majority of back, neck, shoulder, and arm injuries. Tuggers minimize the stress of pushing and pulling.

Savings for those with powered tugs have reached beyond injury costs. Productivity has been shown to increase dramatically in countless industries who have implemented manually-operated tuggers.

TMMK is enjoying many benefits of their lean cost reduction initiative. For other giant plants looking to do the same, TMMK is a valuable model. For regular-sized facilities and smaller, TMMK shows that increasing load capacity and improving the ergonomics of production can greatly impact profit and reduce loss.  Load Mover Inc designs state-of-the-art powered tuggers that have been improving businesses across the nation. For information on their products, visit