By Samuel Ee
SOMEWHERE on a small peninsula on the Mikawa Bay, more than 100 km west of Tokyo, lies a factory which is legendary for its high quality standards and zeal for manufacturing perfection.
This is the Tahara plant, where Lexus cars have been built since the very first LS400 sedan rolled off the line in 1989. Since then, there have been three other plants but Tahara remains the flagship, producing more than half of all the Lexus lineup, including the latest high-performance model, the IS F.
For an idea of the benchmarks that Tahara has set and achieved, US consumer ratings authority JD Power and Associates gave the Japanese facility its Platinum award for worldwide plant quality in 2005 for the fourth consecutive time, saying that it has the fewest defects of any manufacturing plant in the world.
But if you are still sceptical, consider this: the Tahara plant doesn't just have workers, it has takumi.
Takumi is Japanese for "master craftsman", and there are 10 of these takumi engineers. Each is described as a "Lexus Skilled Master" and appointed to oversee one manufacturing process. They are in turn supported by 40 Assistant Masters stationed throughout the extremely sophisticated plant with its army of industrial robots.
The takumi ensure that the high production standards are maintained throughout the assembly process. For an example of their meticulous quality control, a takumi engineer will use a stethoscope to test a Lexus engine when checking its performance.
|Top, quality inspection of the car body and above,
wet polishing to create the car's glossy paint
Lexus says that "extraordinary levels of fit, finish, accuracy and refinement are created by combining the skill and knowledge of master craftsmen with advanced technology".
But more interesting than the stringent production standards is the takumi's training regimen. The carmaker believes that the only way to master the Lexus production method is to build the right mindset.
So Lexus takumi undergo "mind training" to align their instincts and intuition to the Lexus concept, according to Atsuo Takeuchi, general manager of the Lexus Planning Department.
As part of the programme, there are daily exercises to develop dexterity as well as maintain stamina and endurance. They include the squeezing of golf balls and using the gym's stationary bicycles.
Perfection is expected from all takumi. But when your company's motto is "The relentless pursuit of perfection", you can't really expect anything less, can you?
This article was first published in The Business Times on Oct 25, 2008.