Inside the Toyota MR-50

Paul V. Arnold, Noria Corporation
Tags: maintenance and reliability, lean manufacturing, total productive maintenance, kaizen, planning and scheduling

"Maintenance Reduction 50 Percent" is a lofty goal, but who is going to bet against this automaker?


The Georgetown, Ky., plant makes the Camry four-door
sedan, Avalon sedan, and the Solara coupe and convertible.

How are your company’s numbers? For comparison sake, here are some of Toyota’s:

3 - its rank on the list of the world’s most respected companies, based on the results from a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers and Financial Times poll.

5 - its rank on the list of the world’s most admired companies (No. 1 among automobile manufacturers), as selected by 10,000 executives in a survey by Fortune magazine.

6 - its rank in Harris Interactive’s study on the world’s best brands.

10 - its rank in Harris’ corporate reputation survey (again, first among car makers).

10 - its percentage of corporate growth in 2005.

13 - its percentage share of the global auto market in 2005.

13.3 - its percentage share of the United States market last year.

9.06 million - its planned production for 2006, which would surpass General Motors as tops in the industry.

But if you think those numbers are impressive or deserving of attention, consider this one: 50, as in 50 percent.

The 7 Deadly Wastes

After years of work to eliminate waste, Toyota identified the following seven types of waste as the most prominent ones:
1) Overproduction
2) Waiting
3) Excess conveyance
4) Over-processing
5) Excess inventory
6) Unnecessary motion
7) Defects and corrections

Maintenance Reduction 50 Percent, or MR-50, is the latest in a long line of Toyota initiatives aimed at eliminating waste and inefficiency in its automobile plants.

At most companies, those four words – Maintenance Reduction 50 Percent – would incite panic. However, to understand MR-50, and what it is and isn’t, you must know all the details, and you must know Toyota.


Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky (TMMK)
employs approximately 7,000 workers.

Great Expectations

High expectations are a key part of the Toyota corporate culture.

Teruyuki Minoura, the president and CEO of Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America (TMMNA) from 1998 to 2002, once stated, “It’s a basic characteristic of human beings that they develop wisdom from being put under pressure.”

More recently, Atsushi Niimi (TMMNA president/CEO from 2002 to 2005) pressed for high returns when he rolled out Global Body Line, an initiative aimed at increasing production line flexibility. During a keynote address at the 2004 National Manufacturing Week trade show, Niimi proudly reported a 50 percent savings in the cost to put in a new body line and 50 percent space savings.

With that as the backdrop, it’s not surprising that maintenance and reliability leaders at Toyota’s plant in Georgetown, Ky. – the company’s largest site in North America in terms of size, employment and output – were unfazed when the company requested that its well-established plants pursue a 50 percent maintenance reduction over the next few years.


Toyota maintenance leaders Ed Welch (left), David
Absher and Bruce Bremer.

“MR-50 is just an acronym,” says Ed Welch, the maintenance manager at the plant, known as Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky (TMMK). “It’s a challenge and a matter of emphasis.” The emphasis is pure Toyota.

First, it is Maintenance Reduction 50 Percent, not Cost Reduction 50 Percent or Employee Reduction 50 Percent.

“The goal is to reduce maintenance activities and the maintenance that you perform on a machine by 50 percent. That goal covers every machine and every activity,” says TMMK facilities control manager David Absher.

This is not about arbitrarily chopping budgets or personnel. It’s a game plan that balances today’s corporate wants and needs with long-term implications and vision.

Just the Facts

Site: Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. (TMMK), in Georgetown, Ky. Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America’s headquarters is located in nearby Erlanger, Ky.

TMMK employment: approximately 7,000, including 710 in maintenance.
Site size: 7.5 million square feet spread out over 1,300 acres.

Products: Camry four-door sedan, Avalon sedan, and Solara coupe and convertible; also, four-cylinder and V6 engines, axles, steering components, machined blocks, cylinder heads, crankshafts, camshafts, rods and axle assemblies, and dies.

Production: In 2005, the site produced 492,889 vehicles (including 351,883 Camrys) and 498,908 engines.

FYI: Production began in July 1988; the site made its 6 millionth vehicle in June 2005.

Bruce Bremer, the facility engineering manager stationed at Toyota’s North American manufacturing headquarters in nearby Erlanger, Ky., aligns it with the basic principles of the Toyota Production System.

“MR seeks out anything in the organization that is waste or sets you up for waste,” he says. Welch gets specific and straightforward.

“Where’s the muda (a Japanese term for waste)? Is it overtime? Reduce it. Is it your indirect material costs? Find out why your costs are higher than the benchmark and find ways to reduce them,” he says. “Spare parts, downtime, planning and scheduling – identify the waste, then go after it.”

But is a 50 percent reduction in maintenance realistic, let alone possible? Consider your own activities and determine if half of them are unnecessary.


Toyota has a long history of initiatives
aimed at identifying waste and
inefficiency. If a process or an activity
(in maintenance, production, etc.) does
not add value, it is targeted for elimination.

“It may be an impossible dream, but you don’t know unless you try,” says Absher. “Our mind-set is to be aggressive. We don’t go into anything with the attitude that this is the best we can or could do. If you don’t have aggressive goals, how do you determine success? Did you get the maximum out of the initiative? Who knows? We set really high targets and then try like crazy to get there. If we don’t reach a target, we try to figure out why we fell short. What stopped us? Is there anything we can do to take it another step?”

While it’s apparent what the M in MR-50 stands for, these leaders explain that this is not a “maintenance initiative.”

“Everyone is involved with it,” says Absher. “Our people hate waste – waste of motion, all of the seven deadly muda (see sidebar on page 10). It’s like we have 7,000 industrial engineers working here. They see waste, and they know how to fix it.”  

Shunning the S

Before this article continues, you need to understand that these concepts and the ones that follow are not for the weak-willed. More importantly, you must understand that these concepts are applicable to you and your plant, not just Toyota.

“I am surprised by folks’ perceptions of us,” says Welch, explaining that outsiders hold the company and its people up as manufacturing Supermen. “We’re the same humans that are down the street. I don’t think we’re that different than most American manufacturing facilities. We have the same bureaucracy, the same frustrations that most companies do.”

Absher also shuns an elite label for his plant’s 710-person maintenance crew.

“I don’t know if I am in a position to offer any advice because, frankly, there are many companies out there that are really, really good at maintenance. They are a lot better than we are,” he says.


Maintenance Reduction 50 Percent is not a “maintenance” initiative .
It involves all plant employees.

Absher and Bremer cite Eli Lilly, National Starch, Alcoa and Harley-Davidson as maintenance role models for a variety of reasons. For example, they tout Alcoa for its long-range planning capabilities.

What makes Toyota different than other companies is culture and how the maintenance department applies an assortment of tools from the Toyota Production System.

Kaizen Culture

Most companies’ plants, perhaps even yours, thrive and function on the principle of history. “Our original manager in this area put that process in place.” “We won a best plant award in our state in 1991.” “We’ve always done it that way.”

Toyota discourages such rear-view thinking.

Taiichi Ohno, the company’s former executive vice president and the man credited with developing the Toyota Production System, once said: “Something is wrong if workers do not look around each day, find things that are tedious or boring, and then rewrite the procedures. Even last month’s manual should be out of date.”

Employees are encouraged, even expected, to shake things up and seek a better way. This system of all-hands continuous improvement is called kaizen. It is applicable for anything from bottlenecks to neck soreness to soaring energy costs and everything in between. Kaizen activities seek to identify and eliminate waste, while also striving to ensure quality and safety.


Toyota is a cutting-edge,
high-tech leader. That will
continue with the adoption
of predictive technologies
such as intelligent
maintenance systems (IMS).

“We don’t accept the situation,” says Absher. “We have the kaizen mind and we work toward continuous improvement. Everyone does. My job is equal to work plus kaizen. It’s not just the work. It’s thinking about improving what’s going on.”

There are no sacred cows. Employees are encouraged to “not be afraid” and to “challenge the norm.” Problem-solving skills are honed to handle these tasks.

Stopping Short

The kaizen mind-set is most visible in formal kaizen events. These projects bring together a cross-functional team of individuals for a week to three weeks to find solutions to a high-priority problem.

This is a tool utilized in many American plants, perhaps even yours. At TMMK in Georgetown, maintenance personnel play key roles on production-led kaizens.

“That is the perfect situation, a great way to work together, and I encourage that,” says Welch. “Maintenance members have their finger on the pulse of plant manufacturing issues. Their skills are put to good use.”

For instance, production workers sought to address an ergonomic issue on the Solara line. During the assembly process for this two-door coupe, operators who work under the car in a pit had to manually open and close each of the heavy doors 150 times a day. The process was physically taxing.

Maintenance team members designed, fabricated, programmed and implemented a very basic device that used a pneumatic cylinder to close the door when the operator hit the complete button.

The Roots of MR-50

According to TMMK facilities control manager David Absher, MR-50 started as a quality circle project in Japan. This particular quality circle group of Toyota team members reviewed the maintenance procedures on a single piece of equipment, a compressor. The project wound up reducing maintenance on that compressor by 50 percent. The title of the group’s subsequent presentation was “MR 50 Percent.”

Toyota corporate leaders were impressed by the project and felt this thought process could be applied to all plant equipment.

The MR-50 message eventually was delivered to all Toyota plants.

For maintenance crews at most U.S. plants, this is where the kaizen process stops. Very few incorporate kaizen and other Toyota Production System (you may call it lean manufacturing) tools internally to address their own wastes and inefficiencies. They also fail to use them to troubleshoot problems or to create strategies for optimal machine reliability.

That P (production) in TPS (or the “manufacturing” in lean manufacturing) is often hard to look past. Even Toyota’s maintenance organization had its difficulties.

“Like many organizations, we struggled in trying to take the TPS message from production into maintenance,” says Welch. “We got stuck, and we still get stuck at times, trying to turn ‘production-based tools’ into maintenance tools.”

But the utilization of TPS components and other optimization strategies is what these leaders feel will make the difference in MR-50 and the drive to reduce maintenance activities by 50 percent.

What follows is an explanation of the traditional and non-traditional tools that the maintenance organization at TMMK and other Toyota plants has at its disposal.

The MR Toolbox

Maintenance-focused kaizen: Production has problems that can be solved by creative team thinking, but maintenance does, too. The key is to use the available time and energy on kaizen events that address meaningful issues.

“We use data for all of our analyses,” says Bremer. “We have key performance indicators that look at downtime, energy usage, reliability, costs and much more. That information will tell you where you need to focus your time.”

For example, Welch and Absher recently assembled groups for events related to spare parts reduction and duplication, servo driver axis wear in robots, planning and scheduling, electrical fault response, and identifying a stronger global CMMS solution.

“Spare parts has traditionally been a tough nut to crack,” says Welch. “If we can commonize equipment designs, we can get to the point where the design that one person builds uses the same cylinder as the design that I build.”

Absher lauds the maintenance reduction result from the fault response event in facilities control.

“We found that, on average, we experienced a fault on the bus duct in the plant every nine months that typically took 2.7 hours to repair and affected production in the area where the fault occurred,” he says. “We did a tremendous amount of problem solving, and when we were convinced we had done everything we could to prevent the faults, we determined we would do everything we could to minimize the impact.


In 2005, the Georgetown plant
produced 498,908 engines.

“We developed procedures for an electrical bus duct fault response and practiced them with every team until we got the procedure and the teams to a point where they could correct the fault condition and have a bus back on line in 0.9 hours. This was a 66 percent reduction.

“We then developed an electrical system breakdown cart. The cart has everything in it that we determined, through our examination and through dry runs, was necessary to correct and restore the condition. It also has everything necessary to change fuses on the bus and to troubleshoot and operate a distribution system breaker.”

While kaizen events are finite in length, consortiums allow for continual examination of specific issues as well as standards development. Water quality, electrical equipment, welding and energy are some of the active consortiums.

Technology: Toyota is exploring the application and feasibility of intelligent maintenance systems. IMS predict and forecast equipment performance so that “near-zero breakdown” status is achievable.

Data comes from two sources: sensors (mounted on the machine to gather information) and the entire enterprise system (including quality data, past history and trending). By correlating data from these sources (current and historical), it’s possible to predict future performance.

Toyota has been a financial contributor to the Center for Intelligent Maintenance Systems program at the University of Cincinnati and the University of Michigan. As a result, TMMK serves as a testbed site for this groundbreaking technology. Activities currently center on air compressor efficiency, robot health and bearing monitoring.

“That’s a nice marriage of academia and manufacturing,” says Welch. “Some of the problems that we’re working on now aren’t our top-10 problems because academia does not move at that rate. They are researching much deeper.”

He says the alliance is still in its infancy, and that practicality and cost-effectiveness will dictate expansion and overall incorporation of next-generation IMS technology.

“Predictive maintenance will be wonderful, and that is something in the future,” he says. “But even if we found a predictive tool, could it be cost-effective? Two-thousand robots, seven joints each: That’s 14,000 sensors that we would need to put on if we’re going to look at those robot joints. So, how far do you go?”

Five-whys: This simple problem-solving technique helps users get to the root of a problem quickly. The strategy involves looking at any problem and continually asking “Why?” and “What caused this problem?” The answer to the first “why” will often prompt another “why.” The answer to the second “why” will prompt another, and so on.

“You’ll find the root cause, and if you can get rid of that, it will never happen again,” Ohno is quoted as saying.

An equally relevant Minoura quote goes, “If you incorporate all the accumulated knowledge of root causes that you’ve got from always asking ‘Why? Why? Why?’ into your equipment, you’re going to have something that no one else can come close to.”

Five-whys, root cause analysis and Reliability-Centered Maintenance are all used by TMMK to determine the appropriate level and method of maintenance for a given plant asset. They also allow the organization to direct limited resources to where they will have the greatest effect. For instance, facilities decided to let roof exhaust fans run to failure rather than regreasing the bearings and replacing the belts. Resources were redirected to chiller maintenance, an endeavor with bigger total cost implications.

Heijunka: Toyota defines this as the overall leveling, in the production schedule, of the volume and variety of items produced in given time periods. However, heijunka is easily applied to maintenance.

Focus on leveling. Maintenance workloads are famous for their peaks and valleys. Through proper planning and scheduling, workloads can be leveled, reducing overtime as well as inactivity. The creation of standardized work and the breakdown of large projects into smaller ones are good ways to reduce time blocks and to level the peaks.

“Rather than planning a huge PM once every six months, break it into very small increments that you can standardize and do on a daily or weekly basis,” says Absher. “When you do that, you can truly achieve heijunka.”

Bremer applies leveling to maintenance skill standards.


Inside the kaizen culture, workers
identify trouble spots, figure out their
root cause and then develop a solution.

“Standards are the base. They explain how something should be done,” he says. “Standards help a new maintenance hire quickly bring his or her skill level up to the level of competence of more experienced technicians. The goal is to achieve a consistently high level of competence for all technicians in your organization.”

Benchmarking: As you may have noticed, humility and continuous improvement are components of the Toyota culture. To that end, maintenance personnel at TMMK and other Toyota plants are constantly on the lookout for best practices.

“We aren’t anywhere near excellent, but we are on that journey. We learn quite a bit by benchmarking other facilities,” says Welch. “We are currently benchmarking our (Tier 1 and 2) suppliers whose reliability efforts are, frankly, stronger than ours.”

They benchmark auto plants and non-auto plants. They attend industry events to hear case studies, meet peers and take plant tours. They visit other Toyota sites in the United States and Japan. Some good “five-why” thought occurs from checking out their Toyota brethren.

“Why is that plant different than mine?”

“Why are their reliability numbers higher than mine?”

“Why is their safety record better than mine?”

Examinations are made to close the gaps.

Genchi genbutsu: Good things come from walking around someone else’s plant, but equal good can come from standing still in your own.

The practice of genchi genbutsu holds a colorful place in Toyota lore. Countless stories (real and embellished) tell of a new hire being sent out to the shop floor to “go and see.” The person stands or sits in one place for an entire eight-hour shift and takes note of anything of importance. More often than not, the person pinpoints waste and issues related to safety, flow, quality, etc. But he or she may also identify maintenance issues. Perhaps a machine is making uncharacteristic, intermittent noises. Perhaps lubrication procedures are not being properly followed. Perhaps a technician needed to make numerous trips to the tool crib to complete a particular work order. Maybe an operator made improper adjustments to the machine.

The Toyoda Precepts

In October 1935, five years after the death of Toyota Group founder Sakichi Toyoda, family members gathered his teachings and published them as the Toyoda Precepts. The precepts act as the core of Toyota management and guide the company’s actions. They include:

  1. Be contributive to the development and welfare of the country by working together regardless of position, in faithfully fulfilling your duties.
  2. Be at the vanguard of the times through endless creativity, inquisitiveness and pursuit of improvement.
  3. Be practical and avoid frivolity.
  4. Be kind and generous; strive to create a warm, homelike atmosphere.
  5. Be reverent and show gratitude for things great and small in thought and deed.

An eight-hour standathon is not required in this practice. The bottom line is: To know the problem, you need to see the problem.

Total Productive Maintenance: The benefits of TPM are well-documented. The more maintenance activities that can be shifted to the operator, the more time technicians have for productive, proactive work.

At TMMK, operators are involved with tasks ranging from lubrication, filtration, calibration and minor repairs. In the weld shop, they perform the tip changes on welding robots. Overall, assignments vary based on operation complexity and safety.

“Over the years, I’ve seen fewer tasks termed as ‘skilled work,’” says Absher. “Skilled work has taken on an entirely different meaning because of the rapid advancement of technology.”

Visual controls: This tool is closely tied to TPM. Basically, it is a method of visually conveying information.

Gauge taping is a simple example. Color-coded tape is applied to a gauge in pie-shaped sections to pinpoint levels that are proper (green zone), elevated (yellow) and high (red). A newly hired operator may know nothing about his machine, but he can draw a conclusion from that visual. “It’s in the red. I better tell someone.” Quicker identification of potential issues leads to fewer breakdowns and shorter outages.

“The person calls you and says ‘this and this is out of standard.’ In the 90 seconds it takes to get there, you should already be troubleshooting in your head,” says Absher. “That saves time.”

Quality circles: A small group of team members meet on a regular basis to identify and solve problems. These people raise the level of quality, efficiency and other aspects of work performance.

“The experts – production, maintenance and facilities personnel – determine how to make improvements to processes and remove waste from the system,” says Bremer.

The Numbers Add Up

The items mentioned are just nine of the tools that Toyota maintenance departments have at their disposal to reduce maintenance and increase overall plant reliability. There is just as much maintenance applicability in other TPS tools, including 5-S, hoshin, jidoka, jishuken, kanban, nemawashi, poka-yoke and yokaten.

The bottom line is that TMMK is not trying to reduce maintenance 50 percent through a two-week kaizen event or any other single tool. That’s not the Toyota way. By taking a plethora of tools traditionally thought of as benefiting production and translating and applying them into the maintenance world, the chances of realizing goals – even “impossible dream” goals – increase.


By utilizing Toyota Production System tools
like heijunka, five-whys, visual controls and
genchi genbutsu, the TMMK maintenance
organization is becoming a fine-tuned machine.

Kaizen events might reduce maintenance 12 percent. TPM might supply 8 percent. Intelligent maintenance systems might return 5 percent. 5-S . . . perhaps 4 percent. And so on and so on. Pretty soon, MR-50 doesn’t seem that impossible.

You don’t have to be Superman, or even Toyota for that matter, to make groundbreaking, meaningful change.

A Toyota saying goes that “there can be no successful monozukuri (making things) without hito-zukuri (making people).” Developing all those involved with maintenance and reliability into kaizen-minded problem-solvers, and then giving those people the time, tools and support needed to pursue best practices, can radically change the numbers for your department, your plant and your company. Enhanced reputation, production, market share, etc., are within your reach.

If you don’t think you can apply this, start asking “Why?”


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