Toyota is planning to replace some of its manufacturing robots with human workers; counterintuitive to modern manufacturing practice, Toyota is reportedly doing this to improve quality.
Speaking with Bloomberg, Toyota veteran Mitsuru Kawai said his vision for the future included skilled workers “getting back to basics” and applying their craft to improve the overall manufacturing process.
By interacting with the process, Kawai hopes that these skilled craftsmen will drive improvements in quality and lower production costs.
“We need to become more solid and get back to basics, to sharpen our manual skills and further develop them,” Mr Kawai said.
“When I was a novice, experienced masters used to be called ‘Gods’, and they could make anything.”
These ‘Gods’ (‘Kami-sama’ in Japanese) of the Toyota manufacturing process are said to be making a comeback; re-learning the skills long since relinquished to machines.
Their work will extend beyond the manufacture of simple body and interior parts, with 100 work spaces set aside for skilled workers to craft and hone crankshafts, axles, chassis parts and more.
The shift to manual labour has already reduced wasted metal on crankshaft production by ten percent, and Kawai is reportedly keen to apply these improvements to the production process for the next Prius hybrid.
“We cannot simply depend on the machines that only repeat the same task over and over again,” Mr Kawai said. “To be the master of the machine, you have to have the knowledge and the skills to teach the machine.”
Changes to the manufacturing process reportedly sit well with Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, who announced a three-year freeze on new car plants with the goal of improving quality, perhaps at the expense of volume.