Oh, Canada!

TMMC ramps up for increased production and model changeover of RAV4

November 20, 2018
Off And Running -- Team members at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada gather to mark a major milestone: start of production of the all-new fifth-generation 2019 RAV4.

It’s common knowledge that demand for SUVs and crossover vehicles is at an all-time high. But do you know where Toyota makes the RAV4, which is currently the brand’s best-selling vehicle and the best-selling non-pickup truck in the industry?
 
The answer is Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (TMMC), which has been building the RAV4 since 2008. The Ontario-based operation and its 8,000 team members also currently produce the Corolla as well as the Lexus RX.
 
This month, TMMC’s Woodstock plant began producing the all-new fifth generation 2019 RAV4, which will start arriving at Toyota dealerships at the end of the year. That’s step one in a three-step plan.
 
The second step is in motion but will take a bit more time. This involves shifting TMMC’s Corolla production from TMMC’s Cambridge North plant to Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Mississippi. The Mazda joint-venture facility in Alabama also plans to build the Corolla.
 
The third step is preparing to build the RAV4 Hybrid at TMMC, which will be available to customers in spring 2019.
 
Simultaneously, TMMC is adapting its assembly lines to the Toyota New Global Architecture, a fundamentally new way to make vehicles. Work on this piece of the puzzle began three years ago.
 
To put it mildly, our fellow team members to the north have had their hands full. But they’ve already proven they’re more than up to the task.
 
“There’s been incredible customer demand for the current RAV4, right to the end of its product cycle,” says Frank Vandrus, TMMC project general manager. “So we had to find a way to keep building as many as we could while we prepared for the new model. That’s been a challenge, but it’s been a really good one to have.”
 
Watchful Eye -- Master Key Trainer Brandon Powell observes as Production Team Leader Nathan Hanna performs an assembly process on the all-new RAV4.
 
Two Plants, One Objective
 
On the face of it, this assignment conjures images of a Formula 1 pit crew working with precision, coordination and speed to execute a detailed plan that will ensure its race car can make it across the finish line. TMMC had a similarly intricate plan to make this changeover happen without slowing productivity or diminishing product quality. So far, the execution of that plan has gone very smoothly.
 
Take, for instance, TMMC’s West plant, which continued to churn out the current RAV4 practically right up until the last minute of the transition. The 2019 model has 25 percent more parts than the current one. And due in large part to TNGA, 75 percent of the assembly and conveyance processes are different. Yet, given consumer demand, TMMC couldn’t simply stop building current model RAV4 vehicles, make the changes, and then start building the new ones.
 
Got You Covered -- Production Team Leader Ty Weyman trains team member Chris Bonney on the correct way to install the engine cover.

“Instead, we aggressively pulled ahead as many changeover processes as possible,” says Erin Buchanan, TMNA chief production engineer. “The objective was to ensure that the changes we made were compatible with the current model production.”
 
Meanwhile, the North plant has been pushing ahead with its own transition plan, as it shifts from Corolla to the new RAV4.
 
“For North, we’re talking about a 100 percent change in assembly processes,” says Vandrus. “We need to change equipment and tooling in Press, Weld, Paint and Plastics. Fortunately, West launched first, so the team members at our North plant have had the opportunity to learn the exact processes on the exact vehicles in our own backyard before they complete their switch over.”
 
Tight Ship -- Production Team Leaders Virginia MacIsaac and Steve Kocsis review the procedure to tighten the ball joint
to the lower arm, part of the RAV4's suspension.
 
Communication is Key
 
When it’s all said and done, both plants will be producing the same product, which should simplify matters. But it’s important to note that the two plants are about 30 miles apart.
 
“This presents some challenges for our suppliers and Production Control’s supply chain management functions,” says Vandrus. “We need to align systems, procedures and even the management structures of the two lines. Communication is key when just one line is undergoing a major change. It’s more complex and absolutely critical when sharing information between two lines, especially given the geography and the number of people affected. So, we’ve held regular Project Obeya update meetings with video conferencing in both locations to help keep the two teams tightly aligned.”
 
Buchanan says the new RAV4 began rolling off the West plant assembly line earlier this month. The North plant will start production in spring 2019. The 2019 RAV4 hybrid will follow soon thereafter.
 
These are exciting times at TMMC. But as with any big change, there are some mixed emotions.
 
“Corolla has been part of our history since we first broke ground more than 30 years ago,” says Vandrus. “We have many long-time team members who will be sad to see it go. But everyone is thrilled about the new RAV4. We are very fortunate to be building this vehicle, which is experiencing unprecedented consumer demand globally. We are confident that the new model will build on this momentum and keep our plants running at maximum capacity.”
 
By Dan Miller

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