Near the end of the final assembly line in the New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated (NUMMI) plant, "Christine" installs seats in freshly minted Toyota Corollas and GEO Prisms. She's a robot, but line workers don't resent her.
Christine promises to eliminate one of the most backbreaking jobs in this 1990 Best Plants award-winning facility. And no jobs will be lost, even if a battery of similar robots should appear. NUMMI's agreement with the United Auto Workers makes that clear.
NUMMI is the joint venture created by Toyota and General Motors. It was incorporated as an independent company to learn if Toyota's manufacturing system could be implemented with unionized American workers and U.S. suppliers.
After going into full production in 1985, NUMMI decided to invest $300 million in a new line that began building 100,000 Toyota trucks annually in August 1991.
Team structure is central to NUMMI's success. The teams are expected to support the plant's kaizen (continuous-improvement) efforts and to participate in the Japanese-style consensus decision-making process.
To keep the just-in-time (JIT) production line flowing, a "standardized work" system is used. The plant can produce one car every minute, so workers must be able to complete their production tasks efficiently in 60 seconds or less.
Within the plant a kanban pull system averts the waste of overproduction.
Another cornerstone of the production system is jidoka, the principle of quality at the source.
And there also is the andon systema combination of lights and music that alerts supervisors that a problem has occurred.