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Toyota Assembly Factory - Giant Robot, Build Quickly

Posted in How To: Body Chassis on March 1, 2007
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Thanks to the presence of more than 20 on-site suppliers, many of the Tundra's components can be ordered to spec and delivered, fully assembled, in a matter of minutes. Here, a complete headliner assembly, with all NVH materials and electronic circuitry in place, is ready to be installed. Toyota says it will not "batch build" the Tundra-which means that each one will be built to order.

According to Don Esmond, Toyota's Senior VP of Automotive Operations, the new Tundra is "the single most important product Toyota has launched in the last half century," and Toyota certainly spared no expense to build a dedicated manufacturing facility for this all-important pickup. Breaking ground in spring of 2003 on a 2,000-acre ranch site a few miles south of San Antonio, Texas, Toyota engineers had to move 6.5 million cubic yards of dirt, pour 250,000 yards of concrete, and erect 15 tons of steel and 10 acres of railway siding (yep, they can load Tundras onto freight cars, right at the plant, for immediate transport to a nearby rail line). The result: a 2.2-million square-foot facility (or 46 acres, in real-estate-speak) built at a total cost of nearly $1.3 billion.

Shortly before it opened, we got a chance to take a brief tour of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas (TMMTX) facility, and as you might expect, it's a futuristic fantasyland (for gadgetheads like us) that's stuffed with all the latest-generation robotics and computer automation-there are more than 90 robots in the paint room alone. Johnny Sokko, where are you?

But even robots need help-lots of help, in this case from 2,000 employees (1,800 of them in manufacturing) who call TMMTX their new workplace. In addition, another 2,100 workers from 21 on-site suppliers-occupying another 1.8 million square feet of adjacent manufacturing space-are feeding the Toyota line with finished assemblies ranging from seats and glass to tubing, exhaust, stamped parts, instrument panels, and even entire chassis that have all been fabricated and assembled to spec on their own dedicated lines. At peak production, a few months hence, Toyota estimates that a Tundra will roll off the line at a rate of one every 63 seconds.

There's lots more to this facility than simply nuts-and-bolts building, though. Seven of the on-site suppliers are joint ventures with local San Antonio businesses, and six of these are minority-owned, reflecting the ethnic diversity of south Texas. The factory also employs the latest in eco-friendly production techniques. For example, all water used for assembly is purchased recycled from a local utility. The paint booth uses a waterborne paint system for primer and base coats (adios, solvents) for reduced VOC emissions, and all leftover scrap metal, wood, paper, and plastics are recycled. For employees who need to visit a doctor, Toyota has a Family Health Center on site: a 19,000-square-foot clinic offering family medicine, radiology, internal medicine, dentistry, optometry, physical therapy, and a pharmacy, among other services.

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