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How Toyota builds cars – and what it teaches Aerospace companies

Bombardier Inc.’s Toronto plant employs an efficiency system developed by Toyota Motor Corp.
At first blush, the operations Simon Roberts and Dr. Kevin Smith run could not be more different. Mr. Roberts oversees the construction of some of the most complex aircraft in the world as head of Bombardier Inc.’ s Toronto plant in Downsview; while Dr. Smith is tasked with overseeing St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton as its chief executive.

But upon closer examination, a number of similarities between the two emerge, and in particular the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. Both are in charge of huge facilities with a highly skilled workforce while trying to manage an extremely complex and precious product.

The goal for Mr. Roberts is saving money in an extremely high-cost, low-margin business. For Dr. Smith, it’s about saving lives.

They have also both turned to a somewhat unusual source recently to help them run their operations more efficiently: Toyota Motor Corp.

The Japanese automaker has long been considered the gold standard in lean manufacturing. But in recent years, other industries outside of the auto sector have also begun to adapt Toyota’s methods to streamline and improve upon their own operations, including both Bombardier and St. Joe’s in recent months.

The “Toyota Production System” was developed in the 1950s at a time when the Japanese auto industry was suffering, and Toyota, in particular, lacked the cash it needed to fund its operations and or even keep enough inventory on hand to build its cars.

In an effort to improve its operations, Toyota’s founders travelled to the United States to see how the wildly successful system instituted by Henry Ford built cars. But they were said to be less impressed by Ford’s plants than a system being used at the local grocery store: an automatic drink resupplier, where a customer wants a drink, takes one, and then another one replaces it. It was this machine, and its ability to hold only the inventory needed, that is credited with planting the first seed for what would eventually develop into the “Toyota Way” of building cars.

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