Surrounded by robots that build cars with millimeter precision, in Toyota’s oldest plant, the Japanese carmaker’s longest-serving employee can be found talking about the importance of craftsmanship.
Mitsuru Kawai, 67, is today preaching manual labor as one of the key assets for encountering the top of the line success in today’s increasingly technological automotive industry. Kawai started his career with the automaker through Toyota’s technical academy back in junior high school – that would be more than 50 years ago – and says that even as today’s factories are lined with streamlined rows of robots, manual skills can find their place where they can be learned, honed and encouraged. “Today’s automation is the result of quantifying, standardizing and building in the exceptional skills that people honed by hand,” commented Kawai in front of reporters present at the Honsha plant. “To keep building better cars, we have to take our manual skills to the next level. Machines can’t train machines,” he added.
He noted that even the model for the new TNGA platform was actually initially hand-forged, and only then transformed into a blueprint. He is the last surviving Toyota worker to have had contact with Taichi Ohno, who introduced the Toyota Production System for “just-in-time” production. Today a senior technical executive, he took the mission of encouraging each Toyota plant to have one area where manual labor is a priority. The drive to improve quality, innovation and the outsourcing of new ideas comes as Toyota has recently announced its Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) initiative – where models have common platforms and powertrains in a drive to shed production costs by up to 20 percent.