Take That, Robots — Toyota Is Done With Automatons, Decides It's Time To Try Humans Again
Toyota has decided that the best way to move forward is to take a step back — to the production techniques of yesteryear. Flying in the face of pretty much every other car manufacturer, several factories in Japan will be getting rid of Toyota's robots and replacing them with humans. Yep, the very beings robots were created to usurp are taking back their spots on the production line... because they do the job so much better.
Toyota's move is sure to shock some in the industry, especially seeing as Japan has an estimated 309,400 robots, second only to South Korea in its ratio of robots to humans. But the manufacturer is hoping that creating heavily manual production lines staffed with real people will help to improve quality levels and make sure that those working in the factory actually have a clue about the way cars are made.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda has named Mitsuru Kawai, who has worked at the company for around 50 years, to promote craftsmanship at Toyota factories.
“We need to become more solid and get back to basics, to sharpen our manual skills and further develop them,” Kawai told Bloomberg . “When I was a novice, experienced masters used to be called gods, and they could make anything.”
The name for these gods in Japanese is Kami-sama, and Kawai thinks it's time they rule the manufacturing plants once again. There are two main reasons for this. The first is to make sure those who feed the parts into the automated machine actually know how the machine works and what its function is actually supposed to be, so that if it breaks down they know how to fix it. Secondly, Toyota wants to try to figure out how to make processes higher quality and more efficient in the long term.
And it turns out it's actually working. At the Honsha plant, which Kawai directly supervises, the production line is growing increasingly shorter, and waste in crankshaft production has been reduced by 10 percent. Human workers have also improved production of axle beams and cut costs related to making chassis parts.
The race to produce cars as quickly and cheaply as possible led to a huge push toward automation in the automobile production industry, but it hasn't necessarily made the process more efficient. Toyota itself was forced to announce the largest recall in U.S. automotive history in 2009 after an acceleration problem led to "runaway cars." Kawai believes having highly-trained humans keep tabs on machinery is the best way to avoid such an incident in the future, and ensure consistency of quality.
And, as far as we're concerned, it doesn't hurt that the scheme will probably create some much-needed jobs. The U.S. automotive industry should take note.