I saw robots! - My Tour of Toyota

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Robots welding car bodies at Toyota plant in Altona

Today I did the the Toyota Altona plant tour.

The tour was exciting and enjoyable. My favourite moment was when our guide pushed away a pinboard to reveal a line of eight cars being operated on by large welding robots. Sparks were flying in what must have been dangerous work when humans did it.

I think it will take a couple of nights to decompress and digest the information - there was a lot to take in - but here are some initial observations:

  • Assembly line workers perform a very different profile of work to knowledge workers. Wherever possible they seem to have been replaced with machines.
  • Humans are required on the line for processes where increased levels of dexterity, mobility, visual perception or tactile ability are required.
  • The robots and humans seem to get along well. When humans stop for morning tea the unmanned vehicles that carry parts around go and charge themselves.
  • Quality Circles - staff can form a quality circle if they believe there is an improvement that can be made to process. There is a well defined structure to the process which helps staff participate in modifying the process.
  • The system is incredibly well run but we saw very few “screens”. Reports and graphs were printed and pinned on boards. Dynamic status boards were painted with coloured lights to indicate status. A large board would have a similar level of visual detail to an iPhone app. Simplicity!
  • The work environment was sympathetic to the humans in it. Noise wasn’t excessive and they used music to signal problems on a line.
  • If staff climb into a machine they put a lock with their name and photo on it - a great safeguard that makes workers responsible for their own safety.