Many of you may have attended the Coatings 2003 show held in Indianapolis in October. If you did, you may have had the opportunity to listen to Kevin Butt, the assistant general manager of body engineering for Toyota North America. With the kind of worldwide competition that we all face today, it was interesting to listen to someone who represents a company that is not just holding its own but gaining in market share and product loyalty.

Mr. Butt shared some interesting concepts that provide focus and planning at Toyota, what he called the "Indy 501," an extra mile for quality and productivity. One key philosophy is to think "slim." (Not a reference to losing weight). In this case, slim is a reference to reduced system size, reduced processing times and reduced lead times.

As an example, Toyota is working on new paint systems that reduce the length of the process by one-third. It provides shorter cycle times, a smaller building, less maintenance and better process control. Toyota accomplishes this by thinking of ways to reduce the time and space that has been traditionally allotted to painting.

For example, faster drying times, reduced flash time, and less space allocated to paint material supply. They have developed a cartridge paint supply system that attaches directly to the back of the bell that is mounted to a robotic arm. Instead of a large room dedicated to paint dispensing, they have just the amount of paint needed, when it is needed, in a precise location.

Inventory is based on a "pull" system, so that raw materials enter the production stream according to order and inventory, and work-in-progress is kept to an absolute minimum. These are not necessarily new concepts, but not all companies have been as successful as Toyota at using them.

The company is also dedicated to continuous improvement. Using Kaizen principles of repeated small steps of progress, they are constantly looking for new and better solutions to manufacturing and product quality. Their old paint systems had a first run yield of 70% while the new lines have a first run yield of 90%. When you consider the size of the product they paint and the extremely high commitment to quality that they apply, it is remarkable to achieve that kind of yield.

On the day of his presentation, Butt said that they were in day 25 of their new standard operating procedure (SOP) with a target of five defects per unit (DPU). They were at 6 to 7 DPU and improving. A paint process that had 23 steps and took 3 to 6 weeks had been reduced to 10-12 hours, and the amount of defect had been reduced by more than 20%.

They are also working aggressively to reduce their impact on the environment. They are currently using low-HAPs waterborne paints and they plan to reduce VOCs by 40% between 1998 and 2006. Butt reviewed Toyota's plans for paint use through 2010 and the shift in types of coatings to help achieve its goals.

Other environmental efforts include a commitment to a solid waste ratio of 1.0 kilograms per vehicle, elimination of power washing for plastics and recycling of water used for wet sanding.

Another factor that Butt pointed to that contributes to their success is their commitment to people. They regard people as their most valuable asset, with limitless capability and a desire to contribute value to everything they undertake. This is not mere words or an idle philosophy like it is with some companies. Their respect for their employees shows in their actions and in the consistently high quality that they produce.

According to Butt, Toyota has a long-term vision that includes quality as the number one goal, using environmentally friendly materials and technology, continued reduction of lead times and process times, and reduction in cost of operation. This could serve as a model for how to succeed in manufacturing in a global economy.