Tom James got his start with Bodine Aluminum’s Jackson, Tennessee, location on the ground floor — both literally and figuratively.
“Well, there was a floor to the building, but it had yet to be closed in,” says James, a group leader for die maintenance and the plant’s longest-standing team member. “In the early days, we worked out of a trailer park with the contractors. Some of the guys tease me and say, ‘This is the house that Tom built.’”
This year, Bodine is celebrating the 15th anniversary of the groundbreaking of that facility, one of three in the U.S. for the wholly owned Toyota subsidiary. Much has changed during the time in between.
In 2004, James was one of about 30 team members tasked with putting into place and powering up the highly specialized die casting machinery required to make Toyota engine blocks. Because Toyota had not utilized this new generation of machinery and tooling before in the U.S., James and several of his colleagues spent their first days on the job in Japan, observing and learning from their Toyota counterparts firsthand. When Bodine did begin production, it did so with just two die casting machines.
Today, more than 300 team members employ 19 die casting machines to churn out more than 1.5 million such blocks annually. In fact, every Toyota vehicle assembled in North America starts with an engine block produced in Jackson. Fueled by a total investment of $315 million, this facility is now Toyota’s largest high-pressure die casting plant in the world, having produced nearly 15 million engine blocks in its 15 years.
“We like to say that Toyota’s production chain starts here,” says General Manager Shawn Daly. “We make the engine blocks and supply them to Toyota’s plants in Kentucky, West Virginia and Alabama that produce engines. And then those engines are installed in the vehicles. We might be one of the smallest of Toyota’s U.S. manufacturing facilities, but we’re the largest at what we do.”
Committed to Continuous Improvement
Die is Cast -- Bodine's facility in Tennessee churns out more than 1.5 million Toyota engine blocks annually.
They’ve also become increasingly sophisticated at their craft. When the plant opened, it relied exclusively on dies made in Japan. Bodine still starts with such dies, but now duplicates and repairs their own. That’s been one of the keys to ramping up and maintaining higher production levels.
So, too, have been Bodine’s efforts to continually think innovatively in how it makes and maintains its dies. For example, it is currently collaborating with TEMA Production Engineering, the Missouri University of Science and Technology and a leading machine maker in the development of new technologies — such as hybrid additive machining and 3D printing — that can extend the life of dies and help to lower production costs.
That’s allowed Bodine to grow its people. James has been one of the many beneficiaries of this growth. Though he’s spent most of his career in equipment maintenance, a recent surge of new hires created an opportunity for him to try his hand at die maintenance.
“It was a chance to try something new, which is what I was looking for,” he says. “It’s given me a new perspective on what we do, which is a good thing. There’s certainly no need for me to even consider working anywhere else. I plan to retire with Bodine.”
A Volunteer State of Mind
Going the Distance -- Tom Jackson was on board with Bodine Aluminum's Jackson, Tennessee, plant before it fully took shape. And he'll likely continue to work there until he retires. "There's certainly no need for me to even consider working anywhere else," he says.
Meanwhile, Bodine has sunk deep roots into Jackson and the surrounding community. Over its 15 years, it has donated more than $1 million to local charitable causes. But its outreach goes well beyond simply writing checks.
“Tennessee is known as the Volunteer State, and this plant is truly representative of that,” says Daly. “The number of team members who are directly involved in community organizations — including many who serve in positions of leadership — is really something special.
“Our team’s unmatched commitment to quality and safety, along with unwavering support from the local community, has been — and continues to be — the foundation of our success,” adds Daly.
Clearly, Bodine plays a key role in Toyota's North American vehicle production. To learn more, be sure to watch the video at the top and take a look at the fast facts below.
By Dan Miller