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OM in the News: Toyota’s New “Quiet” Plant in Kentucky

November 15, 2015
Lexus

Lexus’ “quiet” plant in Kentucky

Last month, a switch was flipped at a sprawling auto factory in Georgetown, Ky., and with it, Toyota started building Lexus cars in the U.S. for the first time.  Adding the 50,000 Lexus ES 350 models to be produced each year will transform the Kentucky plant into the largest Toyota factory in the world. That Toyota will have its largest factory in the American South is only the latest example of a building boom here by foreign automakers, writes The New York Times (Nov. 13, 2015).

Domestic automakers, by contrast, have resisted building new plants here. They have taken steps like adding shifts and hiring more workers at existing American plants, but building new ones is the purview of foreign automakers like Mercedes, Toyota, and VW, that are taking advantage of the lower shipping and trade costs, currency stability and largely nonunion work force that American factories provide.

Getting the new Lexus production line ready meant an expansion of machinery to create an almost completely separate operation from the rest of the Toyota factory. It also meant training workers in the Lexus quality control methods, which require tighter tolerances for fitting parts compared with regular Toyotas and more meticulous painting. The 750 new workers spent a total of 1.5 million hours training. Some even traveled to Japan to train with Lexus workers at plants there.
Then there is the noise at the plant — or lack of it. The quest has been to create what was unimaginable not too long ago: a largely noiseless, hushed atmosphere to house the new assembly line. “We want our team members to be able to hear a click,” says Lexus. “It is not just enough for a worker to see a potential problem; the worker should be able to hear it, too.”
Classroom discussion questions:
1. Why a quiet plant?
2. Why is Lexus manufacturing in the U.S.?

 

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