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Mazda’s Tradition of Karakuri Gives Them an Edge

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2018 Mazda CX-5 logoMazda and other Japanese automakers like Toyota might have a distinct advantage over other companies because of a cultural tradition called karakuri, which involves finding simple and unique solutions to save energy and streamline a process. Mazda’s tradition of karakuri helps them save time, effort, and money by employing some of the solutions on a day-to-day basis.

We’re not talking shiny, 3D printed objects, though. Most of these inventions find their way to the production floor in the form of rubber bands, weighted water bottles hanging from ropes, and other odds and ends.

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In some Mazda factories within the Hiroshima complex, you can find plastic tea bottles suspended from strings. Hiroaki Yamamoto, a longtime employee of Mazda, created a system by adding tea bottles filled with bolts or pebbles to act as a counterweight and move pieces of equipment back into place after they’re used. Yamamoto also claims that you can customize the system to your tastes or your current task by adding bottles or moving the pulleys, which can adjust the speed.

While this might seem like the work of one stand-out genius among Mazda’s staff, this ingenuity is not only common but encouraged in the workplace. The production line workers create solutions to make their own jobs easier or faster without losing quality, and which often appears in the most unlikely ways.

Tiny additions such as counterweight bottles seem small in the long run, but it adds up. Mazda reported that a group of workers improved annual output by 114,000 vehicles between 2012 and 2017, and this is without adding additional production lines and with the same budget. Since 2011, an additional 150,000 vehicles are being created throughout the country, once again without adding any lines.

Other karakuri solutions include changing the welding gun’s weight from 33 pounds to 4. This saves energy for the workers, and being more alert helps them make less mistakes. They also added plastic blue stoppers to welding points, which allowed them to quickly and easily position the welding gun. The time it takes to weld a car was reduced by more than a minute.

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The idea of karakuri is a longstanding tradition in Japanese culture, but you won’t see it that often here in the West, which is disappointing. Japanese companies aren’t adding additional production lines in their country, so most of the new manufacturing plants are in the West where karakuri has to be taught.

With the new Mazda and Toyota joint assembly plant opening in Alabama, we can expect both of the Japanese companies to encourage karakuri and extend the benefits of the tradition to the new plant.

Source: Automotive News (subscription required)