Toyota workers' ingenuity prevents down time

Several workers from Toyota's Georgetown plant have spent the week in Ohio frantically working to keep operations running at key suppliers that lost power as the remnants of Hurricane Ike swept through.

Workers spent Wednesday in Franklin, Ohio, at Sunnex Inc., which provides body sealer to Georgetown. They moved there after spending two days at Pacific Manufacturing Ohio in nearby Fairfield, which manufactures "critical parts" including small underbody pieces that are welded onto vehicles.

Both plants had lost power during strong winds Sunday. With a limited inventory of the needed parts, Toyota faced the prospect of shutting down the Georgetown plant, said President Steve St. Angelo.

Toyota sent some maintenance workers north to Fairfield with a generator, which allowed Pacific to get its stamping operation up and running. But the generator wasn't big enough to power another part of the operation, so workers in Georgetown began exploring whether they could build the parts themselves, St. Angelo said.

And they did. Pacific sent some basic pieces and the Toyota workers built the rest.

"I've never seen this before ..." St. Angelo said. "Our quality guys looked at it and were amazed how good they were. We actually kept the line running (Tuesday) by welding these stampings that (Pacific) traditionally does and welding those parts into our bodies."

The workers are continuing to make some of the parts as Pacific gets its operation up and running, St. Angelo said.

Workers waited to go to Sunnex because "between what they had in storage and what was in the pipeline, it wasn't as urgent," St. Angelo said.

Just as Toyota workers were heading to Sunnex on Tuesday afternoon, Toyota had its own emergency in Georgetown. A shaft broke on an assembly line — a breakage that could have meant a three- to four-day down time, St. Angelo said. "You just don't have these shafts lying around," he said.

But some workers assembled a piece that their tool-and-die colleagues welded and had it installed by 3 a.m.

"You see all these skills you've been training these members in ... paying off," St. Angelo said. "I was just so proud of this team."