Highly trained takumi employees give Toyota the edge
Toyota is famed for its lean best practice and operational excellence, however the company’s forward thinking approach to employee development has also given it the edge in the world of automotive manufacturing.
The company has invested in approximately 500 skilled employees, who are given the tools and time to master one technique to perfection. These highly knowledgeable employees are known as takumi and help mentor other employees, develop techniques and lately, train robots.
Toshitami Nagase, deputy head of the painting workshop at Toyota’s Takaoka factory says, “We can send them anywhere in the world to train others, improve, fix problems.”
The takumis and their extreme specialization are essential to the success of Toyota, which became the world's largest car manufacturer three years ago. Between January and June 2014, the company sold 5.1 million vehicles globally. Sales rose 2 percent in the second quarter over the same period the previous year, to $62 billion. The manufacturer had never sold so many cars in a single quarter.
An ageing workforce sparked Toyota to think outside the box
Toyota has grand plans to sell more than 10 million cars in 2014 – no mean feat and an industry first if achieved – and its takumis are central to this goal. That being said, the company’s expert wealth is being depleted, which is forcing the company to think about its future development.
“Most takumis are nearing retirement age,” says senior technical executive Mitsuru Kawai. “We realized how important it was to pass on their knowledge.”
First, the firm spots the best young workers in training. The selected ones then follow a three-year course, which includes one year in one of the company's Global Production Centers, before going to several factories to develop a form of companionship.
The company’s employment strategy is firmly rooted to its core values, otherwise known as the ‘Toyota way’ and the promotion of new takumis is supposed to keep Toyota know-how alive, a principle that is not unlike monozukuri — literally ‘to make things’ — itself deeply rooted in Japan's industrial culture.
Takumis train robots for great success
Understanding the challenges it would face as a company without skilled laborers with years of experience within it ranks, the company decided to think outside the box about ways this knowledge could be passed on. Both humans and the robots have always been integral in car manufacturing, so Toyota decided to combine the benefits by having its takumis train new robots to do the tasks they specialized in.
“Don't believe that robots do better quality work than humans,” explains Shinichi Kato, who is in charge of the painting workshop at the Takaoka factory. “Sure, a robot can repeat a task at a high-level. But somebody needs to teach it how to do it.” And only someone who is an expert in his field can do that.
On the painting line, an endless flow of cars passes, and robots paint them. Sometimes, a human — a worker must be able to replace a machine that is stopped — takes over. That's when the similarity of the movements is striking. The robots at Takaoka are not jerky but instead are a perfect copy of the smooth workers' gestures. "Improvement after improvement, we've managed to optimize the robots' procedures and the quantity of paint we use," Kato says. Humans then control the work with a naked eye.
Massive cost savings
This all allows Toyota to reduce the number of employees in charge of one task, and as a result, to lower production costs. Thanks to robot improvement, the carmaker reduced the number of workers on a painting line from 16 to just six. “But we don't reduce the number of employees,” says Mitsuru Kawai. “Those liberated are appointed elsewhere.”
Improvements in the installation of car door seals allowed the company to save 39 cents in production costs per vehicle. Put together, these efforts have led to spectacular results. Since 2008, Toyota has reduced its costs by $14.4 billion.
5 Minutes With PwC on AI and Big Data in Manufacturing
Please could you define what artificial intelligence is, and what Big Data is?
AI is the ability of a machine to perceive its environment and perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, and it’s a whole field of different technologies, techniques and applications.
Big data is a set of tools and capabilities for working with, for processing, extremely large sets of data.
How does AI and Big Data work together?
Big data is just one of the enablers of AI, though as we see increasing volumes of data, it’s one of the most important
How can this be applied to a manufacturing setting?
Broadly speaking, there are many benefits of AI, and the use of data, which include reducing costs, minimising human error, and increasing productivity and efficiency. The important thing to consider is any setting - for the use of any technology - is what is the problem you are trying to solve? Be it merely automating repetitive tasks or to reinventing the nature of work in factories by having humans and machines collaborate in order to make better and faster decisions.
Why should manufacturers use AI and Big Data when adopting smart manufacturing capabilities, what is the value for manufacturers?
One view is, again, the economic benefits of AI, which come in manufacturing as a result of:
1. Productivity gains from automating processes and augmenting the work of existing labour forces with various applications of AI technologies.
2. Increased consumer demand due to the increased ability to personalise and tailor manufactured products, along with higher-quality digital and AI-enhanced products and services.
Manufacturing (and construction industries) are by nature capital intensive, and in our 2018 report, “The potential impact of AI in the Middle East,” we estimated that the adoption of AI applications could increase the sectors’ contribution to GDP gains by more than 12.4% by 2030.
How can AI and Big Data help manufacturers to evolve in the Industry 4.0 revolution? What about those already looking at Industry 5.0?
It’s really about the investment you make now, in order to futureproof your business.
We typically see two broad strategies or approaches to the adoption of AI. There are things that we can do immediately, without any recourse to Big Data - which is to adopt technologies we describe as Sensing, those involving computer vision, for example. There are plenty of use cases where these can be used immediately in manufacturing, such as for automatic fault detection. However, there is a longer term play which requires investing in data - getting the right collection mechanisms in place, storage, data governance, Big Data capabilities etc - in order to develop increasingly valuable machine learning driven AI use cases. This is absolutely necessary for long term adoption success.
What is the best strategy for organisations looking to realise the value of AI and Big Data in manufacturing?
AI and Big Data are only one part of a successful smart factory. The organisations that lead on AI adoption are those who have already made the most progress in digitising core business processes. In order get ahead in using AI solutions at scale, there are a number of technology investments and organisational decisions to be made, including:
1. Digitising processes ultimately leads to improved ability to generate data, and in the manufacturing setting - with many 100s of sensors generating 1000s of measurements in real time, the result is Big Data. Data is key to building AI so reliable and accurate data acquisition, management and governance are key. The production line and factories play a critical and direct role in the data-acquisition process.
2. AI strategy, both long and short term, begins with the use cases, the business applications. Manufacturers need to ask where they want to use AI and gather these use cases together and prioritising projects based on a balance of expected impact and complexity of implementation.
Of course, in addition to technology and business processes, people are at the heart of any successful technology adoption. AI teams need to be composed not only of data scientists, also data engineers and solution architects to enable their work, data stewards to ensure accuracy, and increasingly so call “Analytics/AI translators” who are able to communicate with business leaders and technology experts. Culture is also key, and manufacturers need to enable a data and AI-driven culture, building trust in data and algorithms by educating their workforce about AI and its capabilities, how best to extract value. It’s not just the positive of course, but also the risks and limitations, as these when encountered without expectations having been set, can significantly impact willingness to invest.
What are the challenges when it comes to adopting AI and Big Data in manufacturing?
has shown that one of the major challenges to implementing AI is uncertainty around return on investment (ROI). As I said, there is significant investment required for a long term data and AI strategy to be successful, and expectations around the time to see tangible returns must be set realistically.
Many companies also struggle with the data side: collecting and supplying the data that an AI system needs to operate, and ensuring that it is accurate. Again, this speaks to the bigger investments required in digitisation.
Some of the main challenges for manufacturing companies with implementing AI at a scale from our research include:
- 40% → Technologies not mature
- 40% → Workforce lacks skills to implement and manage AI
- 36% → Uncertain of return on investment
- 33% → Data is not mature yet
- 32% → lack of transparency and trust
- 24% → Work councils and labour unions
- 22% → Regulatory hurdles in home & important markets
One element highlighted here, particularly around lack of trust, and labour unions, is that AI is typically misrepresented in the media as “replacing” workers, and taking jobs. Yes, there are efficiency gains to be made from automation, as there have been since the first industrial revolution. But we believe that Data and AI are at their most valuable when they are used to augment workers, enhancing their abilities and the products being manufactured.
Another challenge we’re starting to see emerge is cyberattacks increasingly targeting interconnected equipment and machinery in smart factories. PwC recently hosted a webcast, in cooperation with the National Association of Manufacturers in the US and Microsoft to discuss this.
What are the current trends in AI and Big Data in manufacturing?
- We see companies putting slightly more focus on adding AI solutions to core production processes such as the engineering, and assembly and quality testing
- Safety is of significant importance, with techniques adopted in protocol adherence capabilities (for example maintaining safe distance from specific machinery) being adopted in more every day scenarios for COVID-19 protocol adherence
- There is considerable interest in predictive maintenance for large machinery involved in manufacturing processes, and also supply-chain optimisation
What do you see happening in the AI and Big Data industry in manufacturing in the next 12-18 months?
Honestly, I think we’ll see a continuance of where we’ve already been going for the last 12- 18 months. AI and data are already being used in manufacturing but this use doesn’t get as much attention in the media as, say, healthcare, but the success stories are there, and they will continue as operations continue their digital journeys.