Industry Tour – Part 1

I am lucky to become one of the grad students in my school. Each year, we visit some factory to learn and feel something about how industries shape Japan today.  I wrapped anything that I could remember in our last three days factories tour.

Day One, we visit one of the most familiar name in the sanitary, kitchen, tableware industry in South East Asia, including Indonesia – TOTO. We knew Toto product from toilets, sinks and many household appliances. Here in Yamanashi-ken, we visit one of Toto factories in Japan specialty in kitchenware appliances or Toto Living Kitchen.

Although we came in such short time, what stroke me the most in visiting this factory came into two things:

1. Material processing
2. Design improvement

In the material processing, we have been explained about how Toto gained most efficiency by making its products by order, hence no additional storage for raw materials is needed. However, in this consequences the precision of time and whole production and assembly line in critical. Precision is all about this brand leading edge. Almost all product for kitchenware are made by particle board or fiber board – a solid mixture of scrap woods and other gluing materials. This raw material might be common but how it is processed by measuring, cutting, laminating is taking a precision up to 0.1 micron. Lamination process, the process which transform raw particle board into shiny surface take up to 8 cycles, each with different layer with different purpuses i.e fire proof, water proof, acid and alkaline proof. The final material for assembly will be new material with different properties.

In assembly line, precision is handled by robots for creating and placing connection parts and a few high skilled worker for inspection. It is not obvious how to coordinate the ready material fro production process with component and parts in assembly line, because each day there are hundreds of different products came from this assembly line. One thing for sure is that with all well managed and precision of work, high efficiency and high quality of products can be achieved.

On design improvement, I would like to give high appreciation on “A-Plan” prototype of kitchen system. Being an architect myself  I know the importance of ergonomic in design. This concept is what John Maeda, a professor from Design Department at MIT said as an application of SHE (Shrink, Hide, Embodied). This kitchen system shrink anything that take longer time to reach out, hide anything that  obviously distract the enjoyment of cooking, and finally embodied it with high tech cooking facility in such small yet compact system. The final product is high ergonomic and fully functional compact kitchen system that make cooking time is fun again but still room space friendly. This new concept certainly came from continuously research about design and functionality. Again, as the time is running out, I am still curious how this factory handle new design which is came from the Toto headquarter in Kyushu into a series of sequence production and assembly lines. How they can manage the digital data into DNC system for cutting and laminating materials. I think part of this question is already stated in non-disclosure agreement.

Well, this small factory with small amount of workers in this small town can sold high quality products throughout Asia and America. I can`t wait to wrap another story from another companies.

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