Behind the Build: Interview with Trever White, Group Manager at Toyota Motor North America

Toyota is famous for consistently driving innovation. More than just a vehicle company, Toyota has a unique approach to manufacturing, problem-solving, and continuous improvement.

At Autodesk, we're proud to play a part in helping Toyota optimize its digital systems and enhance operational efficiency.

We recently had the chance to interview Trever White, Group Manager - Digital Intelligent Manufacturing Engineering at Toyota Motor North America. In our conversation, Trever shares insights into Toyota's unique approach to bridging the gap between engineering, manufacturing, and IT. He also reflects on his remarkable 24-year journey, highlighting his role in spearheading groundbreaking initiatives throughout his tenure. 

Check out our discussion below!

Tell me a little bit about Toyota and what you specialize in.

Right now, I'm the group manager responsible for a team within our Toyota North America Production Engineering division called Digital Intelligent Manufacturing Engineering, or DIME for short.  We serve as a Digital Systems group connecting engineering, manufacturing, and IT.  Outside companies call us the translator team. This includes Digital Engineering systems supporting our Production Engineers. 

Our Research & Design organization designs the vehicles & parts, for example, our Design center up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Our production engineers, based out of Georgetown, KY, work closely with them to understand the vehicle design, then design, build, and deploy the process equipment to build the vehicles and parts. 

So, our group is tasked with being the subject matter experts on the digital systems and data supporting the production engineering perspective. And we partner very closely with OneTech, the Information Technology team at Toyota. Our IT team typically supports the infrastructure & our team supports the applications and content. This includes administration and introduction of new functional capabilities for production engineering tools—including Autodesk.

Now, that's one of three key functions of our group.  

The second area of our team focuses on long term manufacturing systems product owners and production engineering systems app development. This team develops smaller more process kaizen focused PE support tools vs the large enterprise systems that IT would take on.  

And then the third part of the organization is operational technologies. This team sets standards for plant floor equipment data collection (PLCs, Robots, Conveyors), Cyber, and Maintenance systems (ex. EAM).

Walk us through your career and what led you to becoming Group Manager - DIME & SBP.

I've been with the company for 24 years. I started right out of college at the University of Kentucky. I would say ten years of my career were focused on infrastructure, as we were just building out all of our plants in North America. We've got 14 plants in North America, and I’ve had the opportunity to work on many of those from an IT infrastructure perspective.

After 10 years, I had the opportunity to go on a long-term assignment to NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing Inc), our joint venture with GM. It's now the Tesla plant up in Fremont, California. I worked out there for a couple of years and learned a lot about manufacturing.

When I returned after that assignment, I took on IT operations responsibilities. That included the service desk operations responsible for developing an ITIL support model; then, I moved to application development. 

After that, I got promoted to general manager with a focus on manufacturing, R&D purchasing, and supplier operations. 

Then, as part of our One Toyota org realignment activity, my role was based out of Georgetown, focusing more directly on Manufacturing in IT.

In February last year, I was given the opportunity to transfer to the business side, working directly for Manufacturing & Production Engineering focusing on Industry 4.0 and digital transformation activities.

What is your proudest accomplishment in your career at Toyota? Why?

We have a cross-functional organization within our North American operations called SOAR—i.e., Shop Originated Accelerated Results. 

This cross-functional organization leads specific functions like Paint, Weld, New Model, etc. I led one for digital operations and called it advanced IT for manufacturing. I was part of starting and establishing that program, and we had a plant president leading that area. When he moved to a different role, I was named the lead for that organization. It was a much higher level, which was probably close to a 10-year program that involved rolling out digital systems to support manufacturing and production engineering.

It sunsetted over the last few years to refocus on industry 4.0 and digital transformation. But that initiative was the biggest accomplishment that I've had. I got to interact regularly with plant presidents and ensure that what we were building was contributing to safety, productivity, and quality improvements for all plants in North America. 

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role? How does technology help you overcome those challenges?

It's always the biggest challenge to identify & transform business processes and then apply the technology to support them. It's challenging to map the business functional requirements to the business technical requirements and ensure the digital systems provide the expected value.

We need to demonstrate the business benefits that these systems provide. Are we improving operational availability? Are we improving our direct run from a quality perspective? What KPIs are the digital system impacting? 

That's an enormous challenge. Because digital systems alone won't impact those KPIs, it takes business transformation to do that.

And you can tell if a system doesn't do that because it won't be used in the long term. 

The systems that are still used today are the ones that are impacting business processes and company KPIs.

Are you using Autodesk Construction Cloud (ACC) on any unique and/or challenging projects? If so, what has been the impact of using ACC for these projects?

Autodesk has been a great partner with us. We initially did a 3-year Enterprise Business Agreement (EBA), and now we've renewed the agreement. We significantly increased the spend on EBA based on the amount of usage and benefits our engineers have found. 

There are two key areas of focus that have the most significant benefit. One is our factory digital twin activity. We currently use terrestrial scanners to scan more than 6 million square feet of factory space. And we've got that point cloud data into a common environment that Autodesk helped us create.

We're using Autodesk tools to help mesh that data and deconstruct it to digitally design & install the plant floor process equipment. We simulate that in a digital twin type of environment.

This has saved a lot of money on reducing rework because we can digitally fit that equipment into the plant before it's physically fit into the location.

The second one is from our facilities team, responsible for expanding and changing the actual construction of our factory.

We work very closely with the facilities team to provide the ACC tools. I heard from the team that they have doubled the number of construction projects without increasing headcount through the usage of this platform.  

One of the biggest benefits is the digital collaboration with suppliers and general contractors so that the interaction and the sharing of drawings is much more seamless. Changes are made very quickly, without having to exchange physical documents, which takes significant time. 

What made you want to partner with Autodesk on your projects?

We've been using AutoCAD for a long time. The reason for sustaining and growing that relationship with Autodesk has primarily been in the account team. We've got a dedicated account team and embedded subject matter experts who know Toyota.

They know our processes, and they know the tools well. So, they help partner with us to teach our users how to effectively use the tools.

It's been a really good partnership between the account team. Certain technology providers just provide software, but Autodesk goes above and beyond by providing the services to support the software. Autodesk helps ensure that we make the connection between business process technology and the KPIs we talked about earlier.

When you think about the future, what are your plans to advance innovation and productivity at Toyota?

I think the digital twin space is maturing. Right now, we're just scratching the surface of the capabilities of that space and the tools we use. We've got a good roadmap that allows us to continue to grow—not just the tools but how we use them, whether AI-supported generative design or predictive capabilities.

We are pulling ahead steps in our New Model Development process for early detection & resolution. And that's so important as we introduce many new Electrified vehicles faster to our customers.

The other piece of this is that we've seen tremendous growth in the additive manufacturing space, and things like Fusion 360, for example, are the tools that our engineers use for this function.

What advice would you give to the next generation of men and women entering and preparing for the future of the industry?

First, let me give Autodesk some props because you give out your full software suite to all universities and students, which is great. I've got a senior in high school, and he's got Autodesk on his home computer, and he's learning it. 

I think it's really good for students to get their hands on the tools and learn how to use them. And honestly, if they use them in college or university, they'll want to use them when they graduate. 

So, I would advise students to continue putting their hands on the tools. Use them for their capstone or their senior projects. Embrace the digital tools because that's what's going to make you successful when you get into the workplace.

For example, my son actually created his room, a 3-dimensional view using AutoCAD and Fusion 360.

Then, he used that on his resume as a sophomore to get a job with an engineering firm here in town as a summer job.

So I think it's really important for these students. And just that's just one example of how embracing digital tools can give them a leg up in the future.

Kelsee Campbell

As a Senior Customer Advocacy Program Manager at Autodesk, Kelsee has the privilege of working with Autodesk customers to champion their stories on the Digital Builder Blog. Kelsee strives to create an engaging experience that amplifies customer perspectives, fostering a sense of community and connection.