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Toyota opens North American training center in KY

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Toyota opens North American training center in Kentucky

Automaker includes unusual hand-eye coordination tasks in its worker training

Jeffrey McMurray / Associated Press

GEORGETOWN, Ky. -- Juggle golf balls in the palm of your hand. Shoot a mirror with a water gun. Twist a rope around several wooden pegs. These, Toyota hopes, are the skills that will help build a better Camry.

The Japanese-based company on Friday unveiled a newly expanded facility in Kentucky that aims to train workers across North America on the company's best practices. Eventually, corporate officials say, every assembly line worker from Georgetown to Tokyo will do things precisely the same way -- the Toyota way.

"Toyota wants to not only get bigger, we want to get better at the same time," said Atsushi Niimi, the company's senior managing director, who was in Kentucky for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "To do that, we have to change how we train our team members."

Training topics include the nuts and bolts (like how to attach nuts and bolts to a car) and more obscure hand-eye coordination tasks.

Among them, trainees are asked to softly feel a door panel for the slightest defects unnoticeable to the naked eye and practice spray-painting technique by squirting a water gun onto a two-way mirror, with a camera on the other side detecting their every move.

"It's quite enlightening to pick up four bolts with a gloved hand," said Gary Convis, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America.

Actually, Toyota is striving for its workers to pick up five or more, but not before they practice by moving golf balls around with their fingers.

Previously, training in the company that is striving to become the world's biggest auto manufacturer involved numerous "mother plants" that taught other plants how to do business. But the company has grown so quickly, by the time the mother plants taught a skill, a more efficient method had been developed elsewhere.

"With 18 kids, it was getting pretty hard to train them," Convis said.

Now, the plan is for three regional training centers to be on top of the latest trends -- one in Thailand for the Far East, another in England for Europe and the third in Georgetown for all of North America.

Mike Floyd, a regional trainer who attended an international training program in Japan, said it was fascinating to watch people from all different backgrounds learn identical practices.

"Everybody spoke differently, but we were all speaking the same language," Floyd said.

The 29 trainers at the North American Production Support Center each are expected to train about three workers at a time in a weekly course, and those workers will head back to their home plants to train everybody else.

The Georgetown facility is now 98,000 square feet. Previously, the building was about half the size and used almost exclusively to train the Kentucky workers.

The production site was established in 1986 and has about 7,500 employees. It builds the Avalon and the Camry -- including a new hybrid version of the Camry expected to begin production later this year.

Link: http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/artic.../602110317/1148

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