Toyota’s step-by-step automation journey in its factory in Sweden

Picture of Mikael Egonsson

Mikael Egonsson

49 minutes to read

Throughout the years, the Toyota Material Handling factory in Sweden (TMHMS) had to increase the production of their forklift trucks significantly to meet demand. Today more than 80,000 electric forklifts are built a year. To enable this expansion, we introduced more and more automation in production and logistics over the years. 

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The more than hundred industrial robots working in the factory’s welding and painting processes have contributed a big portion to the productivity increase. But as more material needed to be moved around to keep up with production, traffic increased and a need for more efficiency followedAs a next step, we optimised the goods flow and installed automated vehiclesWe also retrained forklift operators to do value-adding work at the production lines.  

Toyota’s kaizen philosophy is to work with small but continuous improvements and not expect to be able to change everything right away. If you want to automate everything at once, it will become too complex. Therefore, we handled the automation of the flows in the factory in steps the past few years.

Automated replenishment to assembly lines 

The first step was to automate the flow from the parts area to the assembly lines. Before, the goods were handled pallet by pallet with reach trucks. But to keep up with production and create a safer work environment, these forklifts were  replaced in 2013 by manual tow trains that transported 14-16 pallets at the same time. By starting with manual trains, we learned more about the flows and how often the trains needed to leave. Three years later, we replaced these trains by fully automated TAE500 tow trains leaving on fixed intervals to replenish the different forklift production lines, increasing safety and creating a continuous flow.

 

Before:  After: 
  • 4 manual reach trucks over 2 shifts (8 operators) 
  • Only 1 pallet per truck  
  • Busy area with bottlenecks and safety risks 
  • 2 automated tow trains  
  • 14-16 pallets on average per train (load carriers per train) – 3 trains available to switch between full and empty  
  • Continuous safe flow of goods 
  • Increased parts transport to support production demand 
  • Flexibility to save on operators or assign them to value-adding tasks 
 

Automated return of empty kit carriers  

Before October 2017, returning empty kit carriers along the mast assembly line was done manually. A person brought material back and forth to the assembly line, a very repetitive and monotonous taskTo reduce this non-value-added work, we started a project to look into automating the movement of the kit carriers. After standardising the process to make automation of the flow easier, an automated cart was chosen for the job as it allowed for quick implementation and high flexibilityNowadays 2 compact automated carts TAE050 take care of this repetitive pick-up and drop-off of kit carriers, allowing the worker to do more value-added work now 

 

Before:  After: 
  • 2 workers pushing kit carriers over 2 shifts 
  • Repetitive manual work 
  • 2 automated carts  
  • Continuous transport of kit carriers 
  • Flexibility to save on operators or assign them to value-adding tasks 

Automation of replenishment to welding area   

Learning from the first automation step with the implementation of automated tow trains in production, we also investigated the welding area in 2017 before implementing AGVs. This to ensure the people, environment and timings were suitable to introduce automated transportSince 2019, components are brought to the welding shop with an automated TAE500 tow tractor, which runs on a set schedule. The result is a more leveled flow and safer work environment.

 
Before:  After: 
  • 2 manual reach trucks over 2 shifts (2 operators) 
  • Only 1 pallet per truck
  • Busy area with bottlenecks and safety risks 
  • automated tow train  
  • 8 pallets on average per train (2 load carriers per train) – 2 trains available to switch between full and empty  
  • Continuous safe flow of goods
  • Flexibility to save on operators or assign them to value-adding tasks 

 

Automated put-away of incoming goods 

All incoming goods are moved from the inbound area to raw material buffer before being transported to production. Before, this was handled by 6 manual reach trucks, covering some 5500 locations. To cope with the increasing demand for material by the production output from the raw material, storage had to increase.  Here we opted to let AGVs take over the work and relocate the workers to other areas, for example depalletisation stations in the inbound area. By first standardising the process as much as possible, the risks and cost for the automation project were kept to a minimumSince early 2020, 10 automated SAE stacker trucks have taken over in the goods receiving area. They pick up the pallets from the conveyors, bringing them to a storage area. Some functions such as automated label scanning and order initiation were added to the conveyor system to ensure safe transportation of the pallets.  

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Before:  After: 
  • 6 manual reach trucks over 2 shifts (12 operators) 
  • Need for increased throughput 
  • 10 automated stacker trucks 
  • 1 manual reach truck to cover the high bay area 
  • 1 manual truck for various tasks
  • Continuous safe flow of goods 
  • Assign operators to other tasks 
  • Increased productivity  

 

Future steps 

Toyota develops and builds its own automated vehicles. By using our own proven automated solutions at our sites, we have the benefit to learn and make continuous improvements. 

More automation steps are planned in the coming years, such as more automated carts next to the production lines and automated tow trains between the paint shop and assemblyThe benefits are clear: step-by-step automation gives you the opportunity to learn and adjust. It will also bring you the efficiency, reduction in waste and level of safety you need to stay competitive. 

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT STEP-BY-STEP AUTOMATION

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