Editor's Note: Toyota's Tim Platt will present a keynote address at the 2014 IW Best Plants conference in Milwaukee, May 5-7.

At the Lafayette, Ind., Toyota Motor (IW 1000/8) plant, amid the buzz of automated guided vehicles scurrying parts across the floor and under the bright light of electric andon displays, a new Camry frame rolls into the assembly shop.

As it crosses the threshold, the Assembly Line Control system automatically sparks online, sending out a volley of notifications across the factory and across the supply chain to arrange delivery of the right assemblies in the right sequence from the right suppliers at the right time in a high-tech ballet of one of the leanest production processes ever seen—all without a worker lifting a finger.

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This is the new face of lean in the age of advanced manufacturing: a bustling mix of technologies and automation tools designed to streamline processes and eliminate pools of costly waste still untapped by traditional lean efforts alone.

The Tech Tools of Lean

Tim Platt, vice president of information systems at Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing, North America, is no stranger to the gains high-tech tools can offer lean efforts.

"Technology may permit a much more complex, or 'advanced,' manufacturing process to occur than was possible in the past," he says. "The development of new bar-coding capabilities, new RFID technologies and mobile devices bring new tools to the toolbox for potential utilization."

As these new technologies are developed, he explains, they present new opportunities to aid in the deployment of the legendary Toyota Production System (TPS) that started the world on the lean journey long before any of those tools existed.

This is an unusual admission from a lean company. There is a long, troubled history between technology and lean philosophies punctuated by decades of push vs. pull, automation vs. manual labor debates that generally prevent this kind of open bipartisanship.