Toyota Kaikan factory tour: Fascinating look at cars being made in Japan

Story highlights

The Toyota Production System is considered by many the best in the world

Visitors can tour Toyota's Motomachi Plant, internally known as "the mother plant"

At Motomachi, a car is completed every 135 seconds

CNN  — 

It’s like a scene out of “The Terminator.”

Rows upon rows of giant robot arms weave in and out of a tightly packed assembly line of unpainted car skeletons. There are no humans in sight – just huge machines working in jerks and spasms, but quickly, each massive arm doing something different.

Some spew sparks and fire, some brush, some drill. Others wipe or probe with their strangely shaped tips.

From a second floor glass bridge inside Toyota’s Motomachi plant, our tour group stares down at production lines on either side of us, noses pressed to the glass.

“Ninety-six percent of the production process is completed by robots,” says our guide, who may or may not be a robot herself, if her monotone delivery is a hint.

“Thirty workers take care of the robots. They have an average life of 10 to 12 years.” The robots, that is. This giant factory full of giant robots produces cars for the world’s best selling automaker – Toyota sold 9.98 million vehicles in 2013.

Going to Tokyo? The best sushi and 10 other tips

‘We need to talk about your TPS reports’

Studied at universities and schools around the world, the Toyota Production System is considered by many to be the most well-run and efficient self-correcting production system in the world

Although Toyota has been remarkably transparent about its renowned system – opening its plants to anyone who wants to observe or study them – emulators (automotive and beyond) have struggled to match its remarkable success.

“Many companies have focused on tangible ‘artifacts’ of the Toyota approach,” says Steven Spear, senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of the Harvard Business Review article “Decod