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Denrie Caila Perez


Toyota’s Engineering Team Completes New Sienna Minivan from Home

Creativity during lockdown saves the day

Published: Monday, August 10, 2020 - 12:02

With most industries shifting to remote work due to the Covid-19 pandemic, companies are looking at how they can innovate the work-from-home experience. Toyota’s Ann Harbor, Michigan, research and development team was set to complete the automaker’s newest generation of the Sienna in March 2020. However, after the state went under lockdown, the team was forced to complete the minivan from home.

According to the team, they were still able to see a production trial of the latest Sienna at Toyota’s Indiana plant prior to the lockdown. This gave the team enough ideas on what kind of changes they needed to make to the vehicle. The real challenge was how they were going to do it from home. Toyota Chief Engineer Monte Khaer shared that the later phase involved what they call “fit-and-finish optimization,” which can be difficult to accomplish by just relying on CAD.

Toyota Engineer Kyle Steinkamp works on the new Sienna minivan with his own tools from home. (Image courtesy of Toyota)

To address this, engineers built actual components of the vehicle and tested them at home. Using a hobbyist 3D printer, they were able to successfully create a mock-up of flexible fabric. According to one engineer, a component was even tested using a bench vice in his garage to ensure that the modifications were satisfactory. To speed up the work process, the team also opted to go paperless.

Toyota Senior Engineering Manager David Burke working on a component for the new Sienna minivan from home. (Image courtesy of Toyota)

Traditionally, paper drawings were used along with CAD renders, which can take up a lot of time to pass around for approval. Video calls and pictures also allowed the team to collaborate with the team in Indiana, which had access to parts in the plant facility. Engineers are usually hands-on during this stage, working on the little details to ensure that the parts fit and function together.

“It has been a real learning experience,” Khaer says. “We’ve learned that we can do a lot more from home than we ever expected, and it’s certainly going to drive a cultural shift long-term and well after Covid-19. I think it’s going to allow us to be much more flexible in how we do the work.”

The team was able to successfully complete the design for the latest generation of the Sienna minivan remotely during the lockdown period.

First published July 15, 2020, on the engineering.com blog.


About The Author

Denrie Caila Perez’s picture

Denrie Caila Perez

As an accomplished contributing writer for engineering.com, Denrie Caila Perez covers news and stories on additive manufacturing, aerospace, IoT, artificial intelligence, and environmental breakthroughs.