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Toyota Plans Closer Ties With Suppliers

As Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America moves forward with plans to increase manufacturing capacity in the United States, it's counting on its supplier portal to gain more detailed information on parts status, tracking, and quality so it can manage production requirements more efficiently. A survey being taken among its suppliers is helping the division's North American IT team determine the best Java-based tools to add to the portal to help achieve its goals.

Toyota has three model changes planned in '06.

Toyota has three model changes planned in '06.

With three major model changes set for 2006--the same year its San Antonio, Texas, plant goes online and production increases to 1.66 million vehicles, up from 1.48 million this year--the company needs to simplify supplier communications. "Imagine trying to manage several vehicle launches at once, sourcing components from many suppliers and locations," says Todd Bridwell, general manager of information services at Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America.

The existing portal, based on IBM's WebSphere Portal Server, supports nearly 20 tools. The most recent tool is an automated "kanban" lean-manufacturing system that sends suppliers a signal to replenish inventory. Less than 1-1/2 shifts worth of inventory exist at each Toyota North America manufacturing site. The Supplier Key Performance Indicator on Toyota's supplier portal, launched last year, likely will be reengineered to step up the frequency of alerts to suppliers about, for instance, missed shipments. "Real-time feedback is the next level of lean quality manufacturing techniques," says Kevin Mixer, automotive research director at AMR Research.

Other types of tools that may be added to improve business processes during preproduction, based on the survey, may range from systems to make sure suppliers have the materials to support the manufacturing for a specific vehicle design to verifying that the processes suppliers use to build parts are top notch.