Toyota Maxes Engine Output

With speed and precision, the workers at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama (TMMAL) in Huntsville assemble engines for several of the brand’s cars and trucks, like the Camry, RAV4, Highlander, Venza, Tacoma, Tundra and Sequoia. 

From 2003 to February 2014, the workers produced 3 million engines. But thanks to several multimillion-dollar expansions by TMMAL to increase the plant’s production capacity, the workers managed to build their 4 millionth engine by September of 2015. 

“The fact that we built our 4 millionth engine in such a short time is definitely a milestone, ” says Tom Cashin, TMMAL’s manager of administrative affairs.

The Huntsville manufacturing plant, Cashin says, is the only Toyota plant globally to produce all three engine types under one roof. 

When production began at TMMAL in 2003, Toyota had already invested $220 million in the facility to build V-8 engines. A year later, in 2004, the company made public its plans to invest another $250 million to double the size of the plant, increase engine capacity and create 300 new jobs. TMMAL began rolling out the V-6 engines in 2005. The following year, the facility added the new 5.7-liter, V-8 engine for Tundra pickup trucks that Toyota auto manufacturing facilities in San Antonio and Princeton, Indiana were building. 

- Sponsor -

TMMAL has continued to invest in the Huntsville plant. One of the more recent expansions came in 2012, when company officials announced an $80 million project to construct a new, 300, 000-square-foot building to increase its V-6 engine capacity. Production in the new building commenced in 2014. 

“It’s been a very exciting year, ” says Cashin. “We’ve added 125 jobs this year with our latest expansion of the new V-6 cylinder engine, an engine that both goes into the truck and the vehicle platforms.” 

Today, the plant produces nearly 2, 500 engines a day, and has an annual capacity of 710, 000 engines. The TMMAL facility itself stretches to more than 1.1 million square feet, sits on 200 acres and employs more than 1, 350 workers.

With another $150 million project — announced in 2013 — to boost machining capacity of the V-6 engines, TMMAL’s total investment in the plant has topped $864 million.

“I’ve been with Toyota since 2003, ” says Cashin, “and since that time, we’ve had four expansions, which suggests that our mother company in Japan has a lot of confidence in us.”

And with the expansions have come the need for more skilled workers at TMMAL, Cashin says.

“Every time we open an expansion, we have well over 10, 000 people apply for our jobs, ” he says. “Each person is vetted through Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT), and they’ve been very supportive and very helpful in finding some of the best people who are around our area.”

But a growing “skills gap” in the United States has made the recruitment of highly skilled workers an increasingly difficult process for many manufacturers. In fact, in a 2011 report on the skills gap in manufacturing by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, 74 percent of the 1, 123 manufacturing executives polled said workforce shortages in skilled production — technicians, machinists, operators, craft workers and others — has had a significant negative impact on their ability to expand or raise their productivity.

In Alabama, TMMAL is seeking to grow the pipeline of skilled technicians for the future through its partnership with Calhoun Community College in Decatur. The education-to-work initiative, called the Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program, launched in 2014. 

The program provides students with five semesters of classroom instruction, as well as paid, hands-on training in the manufacturing plant. The students study topics such as electricity, mechanics, fabrication, robotics and problem solving, and earn enough money — starting at $13.55 an hour — to pay for their educational expenses. After completing the program, graduates earn an Associate of Applied Science in Advanced Manufacturing degree. 

“They’re very excited to be in our plant, ” Cashin says. “They’re going to be able to graduate debt free and have the opportunity to be hired at the end of their five semesters.” 

Gail Allyn Short is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She is based in Birmingham.

Text by Gail Allyn Short

The latest Alabama business news delivered to your inbox