Mitsuru Kawai is overseeing a return to the old ways at Toyota factories throughout Japan. Having spent 50 years at the Japanese automaker, Kawai remembers when manual skills were prized at the company and "experienced masters used to be called gods, and they could make anything." Company CEO Akio Toyoda personally chose Kawai to develop programs to teach workers metalcraft such as how to forge a crankshaft from scratch, and 100 workstations that formerly housed machines have been set aside for human training.

The idea is that when employees personally understand the fabrication of components, they will understand how to make better machines. Said Kawai, "To be the master of the machine, you have to have the knowledge and the skills to teach the machine." Lessons learned by the newly skilled workers have led to shorter production lines – in one case, 96percent shorter – improved parts production and less scrap.

Taking time to give workers the knowledge to solve problems instead of merely having them "feed parts into a machine and call somebody for help when it breaks down," Kawai's initiative is akin to that of Toyota's Operations Management Consulting Division, where new managers are given a length of time to finish a project but not given any help - they have to learn on their own. It's not a step back from Toyota's quest to build more than ten million cars a year; it's an effort to make sure that this time they don't sacrifice quality while making the effort. Said Kawai, "We need to become more solid and get back to basics."


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  • 42 Comments
      Cruising
      • 8 Months Ago
      This is how companies should judge employees based on skills they master not who you know to get ahead.
      imag
      • 8 Months Ago
      That is awesome. Understanding how the machine works is indeed critical to improving it, and there are no better people than the ones building the machines. Another improvement by Akio. So great to see good leadership back at the helm.
        Sophia Eva
        • 8 Months Ago
        @imag
        and now it's time for real leadership to get someone who can actually design a nice looking Camry.... i'm seeing new 2014 Honda Accords everywhere.
      Andy Drake
      • 8 Months Ago
      I think overall this is a good idea. You need to understand what you are making.
      Fareed Ansari
      • 8 Months Ago
      "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Emerson. Robots have to be properly trained and upgraded to reflect the desired result of their output. Qualified Master Craftspersons are necessary for this machine training, otherwise the old adage applies "garbage in, garbage out."
      Du K
      • 8 Months Ago
      Could't do that in america. Too many lazy workers.
        nomadsto
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Du K
        You need to look up some articles on the productivity of workers in industrialized nations. Americans are THE MOST efficient and productive workers on the planet. We work longer hours and produce more then any other work force ever has. We have to, we have billions of dollars in promised social welfare benefits we've gotta spend on those here who don't feel like working! it's not all their fault though, they were told they could get "help" if they needed it since birth. They"ll eventually bankrupt us if we don't stop trying to redistribute our wealth. It's our hard work, creativity and productivity that masks this inherently flawed and unsustainable system.
          • 8 Months Ago
          @nomadsto
          [blocked]
      over9000
      • 8 Months Ago
      This wouldn't happen in America thanks to UAW
        superlightv12
        • 8 Months Ago
        @over9000
        Why wouldn't the UAW want more union employees? Did you even read what it said? Replacing robots with workers = more UAW members. Pretty much explains itself.
        Avinash Machado
        • 8 Months Ago
        @over9000
        What?
      Alberto J. Leal
      • 8 Months Ago
      I suggest they do the opposite in North America. Get rid of humans and replace them with robots. The quality of the cars coming from Canada and the United States will rise.
        superlightv12
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Alberto J. Leal
        Most of the quality problems with American cars are design problems. Using cheap outsourced parts or management cutting corners to save a buck, but compromising safety. If the workers had their way, that crap would change. Workers want nothing more than to keep their jobs. When the product fails, they are the first ones out the door. They would want the problems fixed. I personally know several autoworkers and the hatred towards them on here is sickening. I would love to know what those that belittle them do for a living, because I'll bet money you couldn't handle their jobs for a month. You all won't be happy until every working class American is living on the edge of poverty so you can flaunt how fabulous you are with your Associate degree in interior design. (BTW) I have my B.S. in Business, so save your comments on that.
      Trevor_k
      • 8 Months Ago
      Can't wait to see how the Toyota haters blast this
        Wisdom Seeker
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Trevor_k
        A boring car is a boring car; no matter who builds it. Just trying to help.
          Jaclock LaGlock
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Wisdom Seeker
          Exactly, Carnut. I'm well over 15 and I'd never give in and drive a boring, soulless car.
          Tom Janowski
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Wisdom Seeker
          If you have not noticed, most of the world drives boring cars. Not everyone thinks like a 15 year old boy.
      • 8 Months Ago
      [blocked]
      Fred Crow
      • 8 Months Ago
      Now hold it. Replace them with the UAW? Arent these the same mobs that cheered when OJ got away with cutting off the heads of two innocent people? No thanks, Ill stay with the bots. They don't have periods, bad Mondays, or tired Friday afternoons or grudges to pick for that matter.
      Willy
      • 8 Months Ago
      The machinists will rise again! With new cnc machines, yes a shop can be more productive, make parts faster more accurate,less waste and cheaper, but it's best you'll start being in manual side first to understand the process. Got the learn the basics in whatever field you're in before you can do it better in the future.
      Bentot
      • 8 Months Ago
      Terminator 6: Rise of Man
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