By Jim Kerr
You might be surprised to find an Original Equipment (OEM) wheel manufacturing plant located on the coast of British Columbia. After all, there are no auto assembly plants nearby. But the location of Canadian Autoparts Toyota Inc. (CAPTIN), a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corporation, does make sense. It’s close to aluminum supplies and economical electrical power, and it’s also conveniently close to a port for shipping.
From their 24,645 square-metre plant located in Delta, British Columbia, CAPTIN manufactures aluminum alloy wheels for Toyota vehicles. Production started in 1985, and initially all the wheels were shipped back to Toyota assembly plants in Japan. Now CAPTIN supplies Toyota assembly lines across North America, including the Toyota plants in Ontario. Recently, I was able to take a look at this efficient and impressive production facility. Let’s see what it takes to make wheels for your vehicle.
My first impressions of the manufacturing plant were memorable. It was as clean as most kitchens, brightly lit and well marked. Safety design was obvious, as well-marked walkways used different colours to indicate the area of the plant we were in. Teamwork was also obvious, as several areas of the facility had bulletin boards with team goals, plans, ideas and projects displayed. This wasn’t put up for my benefit: it was a part of everyday operations. Talking to those who worked there, I was impressed by their enthusiasm and dedication. With every employee on the manufacturing line an inspector, able to make corrections or stop the line if necessary, everybody felt responsible for the quality of each wheel and it showed in their positive attitudes.
People ensure the quality of the product, but it takes equipment too. It all starts by melting T6 aluminum alloy ingots, each weighing about 1,250 pounds (approx. 568 kg). CAPTIN uses 60 metric tonnes of aluminum a day, 65 per cent of it from new ingots and 35 per cent from recycled material from the plant, to produce 1.7 million wheels a year. The aluminum is heated to 700 degrees C and tested for quality before being moved in a large cauldron to the casting machines.
The plant has four casting lines, each with four or five casting machines. It is hot in this area, but workers are cooled by spot air conditioning for their comfort. CAPTIN uses two types of casting processes. Most use a differential pressure method, while some use the traditional low pressure casting method. In both cases, molten aluminum is fed to the machines from beneath the floor into the metal die moulds. Some moulds are air cooled, while newer and faster machines use water-cooled moulds. These die moulds are machined and rebuilt on site, ensuring quality control. After the aluminum has solidified, the blank casting goes to the trimming machines and on to the heat treatment station.