Volume 5 | Issue 8 | Year 2002

Some companies might think it’s a bit risky, in today’s uncertain market, to live and operate under a thoughtful and highly evolved corporate philosophy, but not TOKICO (USA) Inc., where a dedicated workforce embraces a creed of operation and continually achieves unparalleled displays of quality workmanship. TOKICO is a leading manufacturer of suspension and brake systems to major automotive manufacturers. “We supply to all the major automotive assembly plants, including Ford Motor Company, DaimlerChrysler, General Motors, Toyota, Nissan, and Subaru,” says Bill Wildman, vice president of general affairs of the Berea, Ken. company. “Our products allow people to enjoy comfortable drives with safe stopping abilities.”

The company’s commitment to technological advancement is evident in TOKICO’s low-pressure gas shock absorbers that deliver better control of proper damping force. TOKICO was one of the first companies to develop vacuum boosters with mechanical brake assist devices for assuring drivers of safe stops with TOKICO brake systems. The company is a major supplier to the automotive industry of technologically advanced brake master cylinders, front-brake calipers, suspension struts, air-suspension struts, air compressors, and shock absorbers.

Quality is No. 1
TOKICO’s commitment to its clients is evident in its corporate philosophy, which lists its No. 1 of five creeds as ‘Customer First.’ Other components of this philosophy include a dedication to stockholders, employee reliance, societal responsibility, and living according to the highest of ethical standards. These credos continue to benefit not only the company, but its customer base as well. “Our significant and continual annual growth is really based on the superior quality of our products,” says Wildman, noting that the company’s prestigious client list is testimony to TOKICO’s commitment to unparalleled quality.

“When we first started operating our Kentucky facility, our only client was Ford Motor Company,” continues Wildman. “But it didn’t take much time for us to acquire many more leading clients.” Starting with a core workforce of 35 dedicated employees in a 65,000-square-foot plant in 1988, TOKICO quickly grew to a point of employing a workforce of about 900 who work in either of two facilities totaling more than a half-million square feet of manufacturing space. “One plant focuses on producing the brake systems, while the other produces the suspension systems,” Wildman says.

Keeping lean in today’s manufacturing environment is a challenge TOKICO finds easy to meet. “We like to say that we hire no general labor,” Wildman says. “Instead, we hire people based on their brain power, not their back power. Every employee understands his or her basic responsibility to be a quality inspector.” He adds that the company’s lean manufacturing base is founded on utilizing the best-available resources including man, materials, methods, and machines.

Lean manufacturing practices focus on teams of workers who are qualified to work on several different assemblies. Fundamental to the company’s lean management and manufacturing processes is its dedication to its workforce through continuous training. “We train them so they are proficient in working multiple machines and multiple processes enabling them to build multiple products,” Wildman explains. “These practices have allowed us to be in business here for the past 15 years with no layoffs and downsizing and that says a lot in today’s automotive industry.”

Employing continuous cross-training programs with lean manufacturing practices, TOKICO employees are highly experienced in similar processes and procedures. “This allows production operators, for example, who would typically build a Ford product to be proficient, in very short notice, to build a Chrysler product,” explains Wildman. “Or, employees skilled in suspension products can make the easy transition to produce brake products and vice versa. Our workforce is really the backbone of our operations here and our employees have contributed significantly to the kind of successful growth we have enjoyed over the last few years.”

Just-in-time practices also reign high in the company. “JIT management allows us to be more efficient and effective as a manufacturer,” Wildman says. “We hold our inventory levels as low as possible and we don’t carry a large inventory of raw materials or components, which means that we focus on being a manufacturing facility rather than being warehouse.”

Cultural Strengths
Having two extraordinary manufacturing cultures from which to draw is an important and fundamental strength of the company, which utilizes the manufacturing prowess of both the Japanese and the Americans. “We use the manufacturing techniques and practices of each of these cultures, taking the best from both cultures and blending them for superior results,” Wildman says. He notes that the detail-oriented quality of the Japanese and the thorough and long-term planning qualities offered by both Japanese and Americans makes for a very flexible local workforce as well as a superior blend. “These excellent qualities we use in our manufacturing and management practices affords us the ability to adapt extremely quickly to changing markets and changing products,” Wildman continues.

TOKICO operates a sales and engineering group in Allen Park, Mich., where design engineers contribute to the company’s product-design development working with customers’ engineers and engineers in the company’s primary design facility in Japan, which also is home to the company’s parent company, TOKICO Ltd. The company also operates an aftermarket and high-performance sales office in Rancho Dominguez, Calif.

Systems development is a joint exchange of ideas between clients and the company. “We develop very close relationships with each of our clients,” Wildman says, noting that the products they design can be planned four to five years prior to actual production. “Customer satisfaction is our number one goal, since we aim to develop the best possible product at a good price.”

Future: An Easy Ride
The future looks bright for TOKICO, and the company expects to see significant growth in its suspension system modules, which include shock absorbers, springs, and mounting brackets. “In the past we concentrated on just the shock or strut itself, and now we will be supplying the entire module and this means we can eliminate middle-men processes so when these units arrive at our clients’ assembly plants, they are ready to go directly onto the vehicle,” says Wildman.

This area is growing in response to general manufacturing practices, in which companies continuously explore ways to reduce their supplier base. “For example, in the past, manufacturers would have to buy a spring from one company, a shock absorber from another, and so forth,” explains Wildman. “By supplying the complete module, our clients benefit from a cost-effectiveness and manufacturing-efficiency perspective.”

The company’s leading position in the industry will continue to strengthen, notes Wildman. “We are dedicated to providing high-quality products and that is how we will continue to maintain our leadership role. We are very serious practitioners of continuous improvement practices. Continuous improvement is an issue that applies to all business functions, not just production. We will continue to set new goals that will result in increased efficiencies and improvements to benefit our clients’ bottom lines.”

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