How the Toyota of Texas Plant Conserves Water

by Curt Burnett on April 4, 2011

Early in the morning a couple of weeks ago I found myself standing on the sidewalk outside of the convention center in San Antonio Texas, waiting for a van to pull up to the curb. We were exhibiting for the first time at the WQA (Water Quality Association) annual conference, and had learned late that a tour of the Toyota Texas truck plant was going to be held. Marketing Manager Karin Grinzel got an email which didn’t actually say that I would get to go but told me what not to wear (sleeveless shirts or high heels). When the bus finally pulled up I climbed on and hoped for the best. Fortunately someone didn’t show, and I got the last seat on a 20-passenger bus.

The big draw for this tour was that it combined two of my favorite things, American manufacturing and careful water use. Our guide at Toyota said that to the best of their knowledge this was the first walking tour ever given at the plant (daily tram tours are open to the public.) An extra effort was made to accommodate the WQA, maybe because Toyota is justifiably proud of their efforts to eliminate water waste.

Seametrics has followed our own version of lean manufacturing for years, and we’re currently learning and growing in the practice of lean design, so I was thrilled to enter a Temple of Lean. We followed our guides through the half-mile plant in groups of five. Ours pointed out one detail after another to illustrate the near-fanaticism with which Toyota employees approach the task of continuous improvement by eliminating waste, promoting safety, and decreasing cycle time.

The Toyota of Texas plant uses nothing but recycled water for everything but human use. After using San Antonio’s recycled water, they send it back cleaner than it was when they got it. And of course they’re working towards an end goal of being self-contained, continuously recycling their own water. It’s an impressive sustained effort and one that I hope will eventually be an example to industry of what can be accomplished through sustained effort.

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