Toyota's new virtual plant tour website offers an experience of the company's manufacturing even better than the real thing. Where did the project members focus their energies?
The Toyota Virtual Plant Tour website has launched, taking online visitors onto the car production genba.
To learn about the vision behind the site and efforts to make Toyota’s monozukuri (manufacturing) more accessible, we spoke with staff from the Toyota Kaikan Museum (Toyota City, Aichi) who worked on the project.
Guided by the words of Oyaji Kawai
The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the auto industry, not least at the production genba, with plants shutting down due to delays in parts procurement and logistics.
Toyota’s plant tours, which had been run for more than six decades to spread knowledge of the company’s carmaking, were no exception.
Before the pandemic, Toyota welcomed as many as 130,000 domestic and foreign visitors a year, mainly for tours of its Motomachi, Takaoka, and Tsutsumi plants (all located in Toyota City). In all, some 13.3 million people have toured these facilities.
As COVID infections spread, however, the company had no choice but to suspend plant tours in July 2021.
These tours were operated by the Toyota Kaikan Museum, which is also in charge of the Toyota Virtual Plant Tour project that Akiko Kita leads as Group Manager.
After suspending the plant tours, we received messages from many customers wishing to visit again.
In place of in-person visits, our staff tried to think of other ways to experience Toyota’s monozukuri, and we came up with the idea of launching a website where people can tour a plant remotely.
Toyota has a very long history of plant tours, beginning in 1939 with small-scale tours of the company’s first automotive plant at Koromo, based on guidelines personally drawn up by Kiichiro Toyoda.
These guidelines state that guides should be courteous and speak politely. On top of this, we felt the need to carry on Kiichiro Toyoda’s passion for informing others about Toyota’s monozukuri and the people who underpin it.
What should a Toyota-style virtual plant tour be like? From what angles should it showcase the company’s work? Together with her team, Kita recalls “racking our brains” over these questions when the project first launched.
To find the right answers, they called on numerous people, from higher-ups to production floor workers.
In the end, Oyaji Kawai (Executive Fellow Mitsuru Kawai) told us that “Toyota’s strength lies in evolution through kaizen.”
Toyota’s core principle of “continuous kaizen or improvement” means that our manufacturing is constantly evolving. And at the heart of this evolution are people.
This led us to the conclusion that our Virtual Plant Tour site should be designed around “human-centered monzukuri.”
We wanted our virtual tours to clearly convey the expertise and ingenuity of the people who work at these plants, along with their tireless pursuit of improvement. To ensure this was the case, we constantly sought input from those on the frontlines.
In fact, Kita and her team interviewed more than 40 people for the project, searching for the content and site design that would best communicate their philosophy and dedication to a wider audience.
The project team spent a year constructing the website, continuing to brainstorm ideas throughout.