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7 lessons civil engineers can learn from Toyota’s manufacturing process

Date
09 May 2022

Andy Alder and Mark Worrall discuss processes employed at Toyota’s Deeside Engine Plant to increase productivity and eliminate waste, highlighting lessons for the construction industry.

7 lessons civil engineers can learn from Toyota’s manufacturing process
BBI Services facilitate the Construction to Production Masterclass in partnership with Toyota and run a series of events throughout the year. Image credit: Honcharuk A/Shutterstock

Increasing productivity and eliminating waste is critical for civil and infrastructure engineers.

The more efficient we become, in terms of materials, resources and energy, the less impact on our environment and climate change.

Furthermore, we’ll be better able to deliver more of the infrastructure that society needs.

The manufacturing industry is often cited as driving best practice in productivity, with Toyota seen as an exemplar.

So, earlier in 2022, BBI Services facilitated a masterclass visit to Toyota for construction and infrastructure professionals to understand what could be learnt from the motor manufacturing giant.

ICE and BBI visit with Toyota
BBI Services x Toyota events offer an exclusive opportunity to experience a world-class manufacturing operation in a practical way.

These are some of the lessons:

1. Increase productivity through standardised work practices

Toyota’s approach is based on a respect for people.

Employee wellbeing and satisfaction, long-term employment, and staff development are key components of the ‘Toyota way’, with quality designed and built into every step of the process.

Toyota’s new employees are given extensive training on the assembly process so that it’s done right first time.

Each step in the Toyota engine assembly line is planned and documented to a standardised work instruction.

This allows everyone to work in a consistent way to safely deliver quality products and meet production targets.

In the construction industry, different approaches can often exist between teams, resulting in variations in productivity and quality.

The more the construction industry establishes consistent, optimised approaches and engages teams to collaboratively challenge themselves to find better methods, the more it could reap similar benefits.

2. Eliminate waste through lean production

The lean production approach emphasises the elimination of waste.

All Toyota’s team members seek to eliminate unnecessary motion, transport, waiting time, defects and work.

For example, all the tools and parts required for Toyota’s assembly process are situated to reduce time and unnecessary movement and improve ergonomics for the assembly technician.

This approach has clear parallels for the construction industry, such as how worksites are laid out, where materials are stored and delivered, and where equipment is located.

On Tideway, one of the key activities remaining is the tunnel’s secondary lining: an in-situ concrete lining through the length of the tunnels that provides it with durability and the hydraulic surface required to meet its outcome.

Toyota’s lessons are being incorporated so that all teams can work to consistent good practice, with materials and tools readily available to eliminate waiting and unnecessary travel.

Tideway tunnel
Some of the Toyota lean production principles are being applied to the tunnel secondary linings on Tideway .

3. The value of continuous improvement

Toyota works on the basis that every activity can be continuously improved, and that its teams hold the experience and knowledge that will allow improvements to be identified and implemented.

Every member of the team is involved in ‘quality circles’ that work on a specific issue. This includes integrating the improvement into the standardised process.

Successes are celebrated, with ideas shared and recognition given.

The RightWay in Delivery scheme on Tideway encourages teams to share their best practice on health and safety, quality, and sustainability across the programme.

Awards are given for exemplary practice, and all teams are encouraged to review the work of other teams and adopt the ideas that work for them.

This has led to continuous improvement across the programme, driving high levels of pride and motivation within the construction teams.

Learning about the Toyota way
Continuous improvement plans are a key part of the Toyota way, with learning shared and teams recognised for their work.

4. Building quality into the process

Toyota has an established reputation for the high quality of its products.

This has been achieved by building quality into every step of the process, and by designing the product and the process together.

Assemblies are designed to be error-proofed.

For example, by components being designed and detailed so that they can’t be assembled in the wrong way.

Quality is checked throughout the assembly process, for instance, by recording and logging the torque settings for assembly bolts.

A number of these measures are familiar to the construction industry, such as inspection and test planning, quality records, and product assurance.

However, the construction industry’s design and construction teams are often separate.

Greater collaboration between them will improve build efficiency.

5. Visual management

Visual management is key to Toyota’s lean production approach.

Everyone can see ‘at a glance’ the status, focus priority issues, and actions at all levels.

Toyota’s maintenance management system provided a powerful example.

Clearly planned preventative maintenance was critical for machines on the production line, but people had a tendency to prioritise production work.

To counter this, each work area has a set of cards that detail the routine planned maintenance.

During the working week, team members complete each maintenance task when they have time and then move the card to the board that signifies it’s completed.

That way the team can readily see what maintenance tasks need to be done, and can verify that all planned maintenance has taken place.

This is broken down into levels of responsibility, with team operatives having the foundation activities, which create ownership and responsibility.

6. Engaging the supply chain

Toyota’s supply chain has a significant part to play in the overall production system and becomes an integrated contributor to the team.

The supply chain doesn’t just supply parts, it becomes a valuable partner in the overall production system.

This is where Toyota mirrors best practice in construction.

Moving away from transactional relationships to true collaboration (for example using the principles of the ICE’s Project 13) can realise better teamwork, solutions, and outcomes.

7. Leadership and embedding improvements

Leadership in Toyota was apparent at every level.

From the overall organisational leadership delivering strategic goals, through to management driving design and planning, and the team leaders overseeing the production process.

Toyota valued empowerment and delegation to capable teams.

When implementing improvements, automation was one of the last things that Toyota sought to apply.

The initial focus was on eliminating waste, organising, simplifying and standardising.

Toyota's hierarchy for improving processes and eliminating waste
Toyota's hierarchy for improving processes and eliminating waste.

Finally, when embedding improvements, there was a real emphasis on creating the belief that change would enable success.

In fact, improvement was built into the strategic goals and cascaded into every function and team.

Recognising achievement was also an important part of the continuous improvement cycle.

Toyota's process for implementing and embedding continuous improvement
Toyota's process for implementing and embedding continuous improvement.

Civil engineers should seize the opportunity to learn and improve

For years, the construction industry has been urged to learn from the manufacturing industry where productivity has continuously improved over several decades.

These lessons learned from Toyota could be hugely valuable for linear projects, repetitive activities, and even within one-off projects where there’s repeatability.

Civil engineers should take note.


The authors would like to thank the Toyota Lean Management Centre in partnership with BBI for facilitating the BBI Construction to Production Masterclass and for sharing their experience, which informed this article.

For further masterclass dates and information, please contact Mark Worrall at BBI Services.

  • Andy Alder, Programme director at Tideway and major projects vice president at Jacobs
  • Mark Worrall, CEO at BBI Services Ltd