Fall Semester Overview of the Toyota Team Project on Industrial Energy Efficiency in Automotive Manufacturing

January 2, 2014

By Gary Gao, Jill Wu, Robert Collins, and Danny Schaffer

The Bass Industrial Energy Efficiency in Automotive Manufacturing Project is comprised of three teams of students working in the area of energy management in this major US manufacturing sector.  Each team has been assigned a company and mentor from that company to define and implement a project around energy management that is directly relevant.  This is summary of the Toyota team’s project ideas and some individual student reflections on the fall semester.


For our project working with Toyota, we were able to isolate to key issues that can impact their energy efficiency decision making. One key issue is creating a benchmarking system that is able to take into account more variables for comparison, and the other issue is corporate communication and how to best present summarized data for management to understand the situation. For the benchmarking section, we hope to use the detailed data and Toyota has provided to figure out how to better compare the different plants and take into account external factors. We will run further statistical tests to analyze the data and examine the result. For the communication portion, we will conduct research on different reporting layouts and techniques in other industries, and communicate with Toyota to further understand their goals and purpose for the communication reports.


Personal Student Reflections

“The two things that I’ve realized working with Toyota for the past semester is that data is not all black or white, and finding the right way to communicate the data is just as important has understanding the data. I’ve always thought of data as something concrete, something that is absolute. However, in the environment where we have a lot of data, it is impossible to go through everything, and so data needs to be filtered. Through the filtering process, there will be bias, and the way you filter the data can give very different results. Finding the right way to present the data to avoid certain bias is just as important has understanding the data. Once you have the data, you have to find the right way to communicate the main points. Data can be very complex, and management would not have the time to dig deep into the data to understand it. Part of the challenge is being able to present the data in a concise and understandable way for management to make the best decisions.”

–          Gary Gao


“I’m in my second year in the Nicholas School’s environmental management program, and working with our mentors at Toyota has been a real pleasure. Compared to the other clients from my previous group projects, Toyota’s agenda and drive really shows, and it’s been great to learn what they have done to earn the EPA’s Energy Star Partner Award for nine years in a row. I’m really excited to visit their Kentucky factory early next year to find out how they make their cars. I’ve always been a huge Toyota fan – I lived in Japan for four years and became interested in efficiency and life-cycle analysis there, and it’s been great to see how our client is putting the same ideas to work in their American plants

I’ve also been excited to learn statistical analysis for energy efficiency. So far, I’ve only studied regression for valuation of ecosystem services and other nonmarket goods, and it’s been really interesting to learn how statistics is applied to the manufacturing sector. It’s also been insightful to see how Toyota measures its own performance and to what extent they gather data on their plant performance. I’m really looking forward to seeing the physical production processes at the Kentucky plant and making direct connections about how energy is used.”

–          Jill Wu


“As the engineer on the Toyota team of the Bass Connections in Energy program, it has been interesting and exciting to see applications of concepts and processes learned through my engineering curriculum to the energy efficiency project.

Our team is tasked with developing creative and effective energy reduction solutions for Toyota’s vehicle manufacturing plants.  As we have learned from the energy data presented to us, paint shops in manufacturing plants consume the largest portion of energy.  The reason for the paint shop’s high consumption is the air temperament that is required to achieve the necessary conditions for the painting process.   The painting process requires specific air temperature and humidity so that the paint will correctly adhere to the vehicle.

The air conditioning processes used to reach a desired relative humidity and temperature was a major topic covered in my Thermodynamics course this past semester.  It involves a series of heating a cooling to alter the amount of water in the air before achieving the desired temperature.  Different cooling and heating techniques can be used and the process must adjust to outside air conditions.

As we dive into the data we organized during the first semester, I am excited to apply my engineering knowledge to increase efficiency in paint shops.  I plan to investigate differences across different plants with knowledge of the different conditioning methods used by each plant. I hope to gain useful information as well as perspective on the machinery used for conditioning during our plant visit next month.”

–          Robert Collins


“I’ve especially enjoyed the communication between interdisciplinary team members: in many ways, there is a sort of familiarity that sets in among people within the same program after a period of time and along with this comes a certain set of expectations about how others in a group will view the challenges of a given problem. Working with people across a wide range of experiences and specializations forces you to re-evaluate your expectations, justify your own approach and, in the process, clarifies both the strengths of the perspective you’ve developed and the quality of insight available from many very different fields.

Where economists often enjoy working with data directly and crafting identification strategies that correspond to specific theoretical claims in order to evaluate causal relationships, engineers will likely revel in the technical details of the production process and environmental managers will have a lot of insight into the challenges of practically implementing complex policies.

Working with industry partners, too, brings in an entirely different type of perspective. Toyota’s flexibility, openness and encouragement have been instrumental as our project has progressed through the term, and I look forward to its further development throughout the next semester.”

–          Danny Schaffer