Tag Archives: Japan

Toyota Understands Robots are Best Used to Enhance the Value Employees Provide

Toyota has always seen robotics as a way to enhance what staff can do. Many USA executives think of robotics as a way to reduce personnel. Toyota wants to use the brainpower of employees to continually improve the organization. Toyota wants to free people for monotonous or dangerous work to let them use their minds.

Humans Steal Jobs From Robots at Toyota

Humans are taking the place of machines in plants across Japan so workers can develop new skills and figure out ways to improve production lines and the car-building process.

“We cannot simply depend on the machines that only repeat the same task over and over again,” Kawai said. “To be the master of the machine, you have to have the knowledge and the skills to teach the machine.”

Kawai, 65, started with Toyota during the era of Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System envied by the auto industry for decades with its combination of efficiency and quality. That means Kawai has been living most of his life adhering to principles of kaizen, or continuous improvement, and monozukuri, which translates to the art of making things.

“Fully automated machines don’t evolve on their own,” said Takahiro Fujimoto, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Manufacturing Management Research Center. “Mechanization itself doesn’t harm, but sticking to a specific mechanization may lead to omission of kaizen and improvement.”

We need more companies to learn from the executives at Toyota. They show real respect for people. They are not focused on how much they can extract from the corporate treasury to build themselves castles at the expense of other employees, customers and stockholders as far too many USA executives are.

Toyota has been extremely innovative in investing in robotics as human assistants (partially this is due to the extreme demographic problems Japan faces): Toyota Develops Thought-controlled WheelchairToyota’s Partner RobotToyota Winglet – Personal Transportation Assistance.

Related: Webcast on the Toyota Development ProcessDon’t Hide Problems in ComputersAkio Toyoda’s Message Shows Real Leadership

Manufacturing Outlook and History In the USA and Globally

I write primarily about management improvement on this blog – which makes sense given the title. In the very early days I had more on investing, economic data, science, engineering and travel. Then I created three new blogs (Curious Cat Investment and Economics Blog, Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog, Curious Cat Travel Photos blog) and that made this blog more focused.

Even so the lines of what fits where can be a bit fuzzy and I continue to write about manufacturing, and health care, with a focus on economic data, occasionally. And that is what I am doing today while touching on management related to manufacturing a bit.

As I have written before the story of manufacturing in the USA, and globally, is greatly increased quality of processes and output as well as greatly improved productivity over the last few decades. Manufacturing output also increased, including in the USA, as I have written consistently for a decade now. For example: (Top 10 Countries for Manufacturing Production from 1980 to 2010.

Still many people have the notion that USA manufacturing has been declining, which hasn’t been true, and certainly isn’t true now (the last couple of years have been especially strong and even the general public seems to realize the idea of the USA losing manufacturing is a myth).

Chart of Manufacturing Output fro 1992 to 2012 - USA, China, Japan and Germany

Based on data from the UN. See my blog post on my economics for more details on the data (to be posted next week).

The chart is impressive and illustrates the point I have been hammering home for years. The USA manufacturing base is growing and far from crumbling (job losses are deceiving as they are global and not an indication of a USA manufacturing decline). China’s manufacturing growth is incredible. China and the USA are far away the top 2 manufacturing countries. Japan and Germany make out the top 4 before a large gap which then is followed by a group of countries that are very close (Korea is 5th with less than half the production of Germany).

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary on a Japanese sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, that is full of great quotes for those interested in continual improvement. Throughout the film people discuss a never ending focus on doing better and better – never becoming complacent.

Quotes from Jiro Dreams of Sushi:

Jiro: “Once you decide on your occupation you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with what you do… You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That is the secret of success and the key to being regarded honorably.”

Jiro: “There is always room for improvement.”

Jiro: “I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit.”

Jiro: “I feel ecstasy every day. I love making sushi.”

Fish seller: “When you think you know it all, you then realize you are just fooling yourself.”

Food critic ~ “when you work for Jiro he teaches you for free. But you have to endure years of training.

​Apprentice: “But there is only so much you can learn from words. I have to keep practicing.”​

Jiro: ~ (paraphrased and changed a bit) “When the fish gets to me the sushi is 95% complete. I prepare it in front of the customer so get the credit but the truth is the person doing the least work gets most of the credit”

Jiro’s eldest son, Yoshikazu: “Always strive to elevate your craft.”

The focus is on the dining experience in total. The meal is composed of elements that are designed to work together with the focus on quality of the individual dishes but also on the interaction between the individual items and the complete experience.

The respect for suppliers is also seen in the film. Jiro’s eldest son says (approximately) “we are experts at sushi and we know a great deal but the tuna vendor we use knows more about tuna, the shrimp vendor knows more about shrimp… we trust them.” Later Jiro says (again from my memory), “we buy our rice from our vendor because Mr. ___ (I can’t remember the name) knows more about rice than anyone else, I trust him to provide what is best for us.”

They even touch on the bigger picture. Jiro’s son: “overfishing is the problem. Finding good fish is getting harder and harder… There should be regulations enforced on only catching bigger fish. Business should balance profit with preserving natural resources.”

As with any example there are particulars that you can learn from and specifics that don’t apply well to your situation. I know next to nothing about kitchens of world class restaurants but what I do know is they seem extremely dedicated to their work (much more so than many other organizations are interested in striving for). They also seem to be more autocratic than most other modern organizations. They also seem much more focused on perfecting the process to achieve the best result even if that requires a great deal more work than some alternative that produces very good results.

Related: You’ve Got to Find What You Love (Steve Jobs Stanford address)Respect People by Creating a Climate for Joy in WorkPositivity and Joy in WorkThe Customer is the Purpose of Our Work

Leading Manufacturing Countries from 2000 to 2010: China, USA…

chart showing leading manufacturing countries output from 2000-2010

Chart of manufacturing production by the top 10 manufacturing countries (2000 to 2010). The chart was created by the Curious Cat Economics Blog. You may use the chart with attribution. All data is shown in 2010 USD (United States Dollar).

Over the years I have been posting data on the manufacturing output of leading countries. In 2010 China finally overtook the USA to becoming the leading manufacturer (long after you would have thought listening to many news sources and political leaders). In a previous post on the Curious Cat Economics Blog I looked at the output of the top 10 manufacturing countries with a focus on 1980 to 2010.

In 1995 the USA was actually very close to losing the lead to Japan (though you wouldn’t think it looking at the recent data). I believe China will be different, I believe China is going to build on their lead. There has been some talk for several years of manufacturing moving out of China seeking lower cost countries. The data doesn’t support any decline in Chinese manufacturing (or significant moves away from China toward other South-East Asian countries). Indonesia has grown quickly (and is the largest SE Asian manufacturing country), but their total manufacturing output is less than China grew by per year for the last 5 years.

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Dr. Deming in 1980 on Product Quality in Japan and the USA

I posted an interesting document to the Curious Cat Management Library: it includes Dr. Deming’s comments as part of a discussion organized by the Government Accounting Office in 1980 on Quality in Japan and the United States.

The document provides some interesting thoughts from Dr. Deming and others; Dr. Deming’s statements start on page 52 of the document. For those really interested in management improvement ideas it is a great read. I imagine most managers wouldn’t enjoy it though (it isn’t giving direct advice for today, but I found it very interesting).

Some selected quotes from the document follow. On his work with Japan in 1950:

This movement, I told them, will fail and nothing will happen unless management does their part. Management must know something about statistical techniques and know that if they are good one place, they will work in another. Management must see that they are used throughout the company.
Quality control must take root with simple statistical techniques that management and everyone in the company must learn. By these techniques, people begin to understand the different kinds of variation. Then quality control just grow with statistical theory and further experience. All this learning must be guided by a master. Remarkable results may come quick, but one has no right to expect results in a hurry. The learning period never ends.

The statistical control of quality is not for the timid and the halfhearted. There is no way to learn except to learn it and do it. You can read about swimming, but you might drown if you had to learn it that way!

One of the common themes at that time was Deming’s methods worked because Japanese people and culture were different. That wasn’t why the ideas worked, but it was an idea many people that wanted to keep doing things the old way liked to believe.

There may be a lot of difference, I made the statement on my first visit there that a Japanese man was never too old nor too successful to learn, and to wish to learn; to study and to learn. I know that people here also study and learn. I’ll be eighty next month in October. I study every day and learn every day. So you find studious people everywhere, but I think that you find in Japan the desire to learn, the willingness to learn.

You didn’t come to hear me on this; there are other people here much better qualified than I am to talk. But in Japan, a man works for the company; he doesn’t work to please somebody. He works for the company, he can argue for the company and stick with it when he has an idea because his position is secure. He doesn’t have to please somebody. It is so here in some companies, but only in a few. I think this is an important difference.

At the time the way QC circles worked in Japan was basically employee led kaizen. So companies that tried to copy Japan told workers: now go make things better like the workers we saw in Japan were doing. Well with management not changing (and understanding Deming’s ideas, lean thinking, variation, systems thinking…) and staff not given training to understand how to improve processes it didn’t work very well. We (those reading this blog) may all now understand the advantages one piece flow. I can’t imagine too many people would jump to that idea sitting in their QC circle without having been told about one piece flow (I know I wouldn’t have), and all the supporting knowledge needed to make that concept work.

QC circles can make tremendous contributions. But let me tell you this, Elmer. If it isn’t obvious to the workers that the managers are doing their part, which only they can do, I think that the workers just get fed up with trying in vain to improve their part of the work. Management must do their part: they must learn something about management.

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Deming Prizes for 2011 go to Companies Based in India, Taiwan and Thailand

image of the Deming Prize medal

The Union Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) has awarded the Deming Prize to 3 companies in 2011:

Follow the links I included for the companies to see a bit about their management philosophies. As has been the case since 2000, India and Thailand again did well. Between them the are home to 27 of the 38 award winning organizations.

I have moved to Malaysia and have started some work in Singapore helping organization improve management performance, maybe we can get those 2 countries represented in the coming years (this isn’t a short term effort). I may also do some work in other parts of Asia and Australia.

Organizations receiving the Deming Prize since 2000, by country. Prior to 2000, nearly all winners were from Japan:

Country Prizes
India 17
Thailand 10
Japan 7
USA 1
Singapore 1
China 1
Taiwan 1

The 2011 Deming Prize for Individuals went to Mr. Masamitsu Sakurai, Chairman, Ricoh Company, Ltd. (Japan). Previous recipients include: Kaoru Ishikawa, Genichi Taguchi, Shoichiro Toyoda, Hitoshi Kume and Noriaki Kano.

Related: 2010 Deming Prize2009 Deming Prize2008 Deming Prize: Tata SteelDeming Prize 20072006 Deming Prize

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2010 Deming Prize

image of the Deming Prize medal

The Union Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) has awarded the Deming Prize to 4 companies in 2010: Corona Corporation (Japan), Meidoh (Japan), GC Dental (China) and National Engineering Industries Limited (India).

Organizations receiving the Deming Prize since 2000 by country (prior to that almost all winners were from Japan):

Country Prizes
India 16
Thailand 9
Japan 7
USA 1
Singapore 1
China 1

This is the first time a Chinese company has won a Deming Prize. The parent company, GC Dental (Japan), was awarded the Deming Prize in 2000 and the Japan Quality Medal in 2004.

The 2010 Deming Prize for Individuals went to Dr. Takao Enkawa, Professor, Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, Tokyo Institute of Technology. Previous recipients include: Kaoru Ishikawa, Genichi Taguchi, Shoichiro Toyoda, Hitoshi Kume and Noriaki Kano.

Related: 2009 Deming Prize2008 Deming Prize: Tata SteelDeming Prize 20072006 Deming Prize
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Toyota’s Journey to Lean Software Development

Toyota’s journey from Waterfall to Lean software development by Henrik Kniberg

Toyota builds cars (duh). In the past that didn’t involve much software, and the little software that was needed was mostly developed by suppliers and embedded in isolated components. Toyota assembled them and didn’t much care about the software inside. But “The importance of automatic electronic control system has been increasing dramatically year by year” said Ishii-san.

A modern car is pretty much a computer on wheels! In a hybrid car about half of the development cost is software, it contains millions of lines of code as all the different subsystems have to integrate with each other. He mentioned that a Lexus contains 14 million lines of code, comparable to banking and airplane software systems. Ishi-san concluded that “Therefore Toyota needs to become an IT company”.

Most of Toyota’s ideas about how to do Lean software development resonated well with me. My feeling was that they are on the right track.

One thing bothered me though – the extreme focus on detailed metrics. I agree with the value of visualization, standardization, and data-driven process improvement – but only if used at a high level. My feeling was that Toyota was going to far. They say engineer motivation is critical, but how motivating is it to work in an organization that plans and measures everything you do – every line of code, every hour, every defect, how many minutes it takes to do an estimate, etc?

via: Justin Hunter

Related: Toyota IT OverviewToyota Canada CIO on Genchi Genbutsu and KaizenLean Software DevelopmentMy First Trip to Japan by Peter ScholtesToyota IT for Kaizen

Prophet Unheard: Dr. W. Edwards Deming – 1992

[embedded webcast links removed because they have been removed from YouTube. To see video with W. Edwards Deming see the Deming Institute YouTube channel.]

This is an interesting video on Deming and American management (by the BBC in 1992): Prophet Unheard. It includes some nice old footage of Deming in Japan. The importance of respect for people is clear and the video also touches on the idea the danger of relying on data (when you do not understand variation and that many important matters and unmeasurable). The video features many snippets of Dr. Deming speaking and includes Don Peterson, Ford CEO; Clare Crawford Mason, If Japan Can, Why Can’t We producer; and Myron Tribus.

Related: Dr. Deming Webcast on the 5 Deadly DiseasesRed Bead Experiment WebcastPerformance without Appraisalmanagement webcasts

Part two of the documentary explores the Deming Prize, understanding data and the PDSA cycle: [removed]

Part 3 explores the efforts at Florida Power and Light, the first USA Deming Prize winner: [removed]

Akio Toyoda’s Message Shows Real Leadership

Speech by Akio Toyoda

Since the birth of Toyota, the company’s philosophy has always been to “contribute to society.”

“Contributing to society” at Toyota means two things. First, it means, “to manufacture automobiles that meet the needs of society and enrich people’s lives.” And second, “to take root in the communities we serve by creating jobs, earning profits and paying taxes, thereby enriching the local economies where we operate.”

Toyota has overcome many challenges during its seven decades of business. What has made this possible is the way we make our cars under our “customer first” and “genchi genbutsu” principles

Rather than asking, “How many cars will we sell?” or, “How much money will we make by selling these cars?” we need to ask ourselves, “What kind of cars will make people happy?” as well as, “What pricing will attract them in each region?” Then we must make those cars.

Through these processes, I would like to make Toyota’s product development and product lineup more region-focused. We will change our policy from achieving “a full lineup everywhere” to “a lineup necessary to meet the needs of each region”. We will also launch new vehicles that anticipate consumer needs and are exciting to drive.

At the press conference in January, I talked about my desire to become “a president who is closest to the frontlines, or gemba.” I believe that the essence of management lies in the gemba, and Toyota employees play a vital role there.

Once again Toyota shows they are the type of management I want to invest in. In my last post I discussed another: Jeff Bezos at Amazon. Google management is another management system I am glad to invest in. Toyota, Amazon and Google are 3 of my 12 stocks for 10 year portfolio.

Toyota continues to show they are an exceptional company that doesn’t waver due to short term pressures. They know the management system they have in place is excellent. They always try to improve. And they react to evidence that shows they have room to improve. They then access the situation and move forward.

via: Toyoda on Toyota: A New Regime, A New Future

Related: New Toyota CEO’s Views (2005)Interview with Toyota President (2006)Deming Companies“2007 has been a difficult year for Toyota”No Excessive Senior Executive Pay at ToyotaWebcast on the Toyota Development Process

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Toyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair

Toyota has developed a thought-controlled wheelchair (along with Japanese government research institute, RIKEN, and Genesis Research Institute). Honda has also developed a system that allows a person to control a robot through thoughts. Both companies continue to invest in innovation and science and engineering. The story of a bad economy and bad sales for a year or two is what you read in most newspapers. In my opinion the more important story is why Toyota and Honda will be dominant companies 20 years from now. And that story is based on their superior management and focus on long term success instead of short term quarterly results.

Yes Toyota can improve their performance, based on the last few years. Does management understand what they need to do? I think so. Does management understand that the system needs to be improved rather than the numbers on the spreadsheets of various managers have to be made better? I think so. Do I think most companies today, with bad results, understand the difference between bad numbers on spreadsheets that are used to judge various managers and a system that needs to be improved? No.

I do not believe the bad earnings for the last year for Toyota are indicative of a failed system. The results do show a weakness in the Toyota system that allowed them to perform this poorly during this credit crisis. The risk to Toyota’s future is that they become too focused on short term results, mistakenly thinking the problem to be fixed in the bad quarterly results recently. They need to focus on improving the system for the long term. And the recent experience likely shows some areas that need to be improved. But in no way do the fundamental tenants of the management system need to be changed. For many other companies today, changing fundamental aspects of their management is what is needed.

Related: Toyota as HomebuilderHonda’s Robolegs Help People WalkHonda has Never had Layoffs and has been Profitable Every YearToyota’s Partner RobotNUMMI, and GM’s Failure to Manage EffectivelyToyota iUnitInvest in New Management Methods Not a Failing Company by William Hunter, 1986
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Japan Airlines CEO on CEO Pay

Nice webbast of CNN clip on Japan Airlines CEO cutting his pay to less than that of the pilots. He really seems to understand the company does not exist for him to plunder (unlike so many CEOs in the USA).

Related: Japan Airlines using Toyota Production System PrinciplesUnder Nishimatsu, Japan Airlines Tries to Rise Above LegacyRespect for Employees at Southwest Airlinesposts on executive payHonda executives not overpaid either

Honda has Never had Layoffs and has been Profitable Every Year

Engineers Rule, 2006

Longtime auto analyst John Casesa, who now runs a consulting company, says, “There’s not a company on earth that better understands the culture of engineering.” The strategy has worked thus far. Honda has never had an unprofitable year. It has never had to lay off employees.

The lean and compact Fukui, like all of his predecessors, is an engineer who started in R&D and later ran the subsidiary. While other auto chief-executives-to-be were punching keyboards in an accounting office, Fukui ran the company’s motorcycle racing operations. He’s still racing. He hikes the stairs to his tenth-floor desk–tenth floor so he’s in the middle of things at Honda’s 16-story Tokyo headquarters and a desk because executives at Honda don’t have offices. Honda doesn’t disclose executive pay in detail, but the sum of salaries and bonuses that Fukui shares with 36 board members, $13 million, is just about enough for the boss at a big American company.

I checked and Honda was also profitable in 2007 and 2008 fiscal year (ending in September) and no I see no evidence of any layoffs this year (when I look online).

Related: Honda EngineeringBack to School for Honda Workers, 1993The Google Way: Give Engineers RoomGoogle’s Ten Golden RulesToyota as HomebuilderCurious Cat Science and Engineering BlogToyota’s CEO pay under $1 million

Of all the bizarre subsidiaries that big companies can find themselves with, Harmony Agricultural Products, founded and owned by Honda Motor, is one of the strangest. This small company near Marysville, Ohio produces soybeans for tofu. Soybeans? Honda couldn’t brook the sight of the shipping containers that brought parts from Japan to its nearby auto factories returning empty. So Harmony now ships 33,000 pounds of soybeans to Japan. An inveterate tinkerer, Honda also set up a center nearby to develop better soybean varieties and improve agricultural processes.

Easiest Countries for Doing Business 2008

Singapore is again ranked first for Ease of Doing Business by the World Bank. For some reason they call the report issued in any given year as the report for the next year (which makes no sense to me). The data shown below is for the year they released the report.

Country 2008 2007 2006 2005
Singapore 1 1 1 2
New Zealand 2 2 2 1
United States 3 3 3 3
Hong Kong 4 4 5 6
Denmark 5 5 7 7
United Kingdom 6 6 6 5
other countries of interest
Canada 8 7 4 4
Japan 12 12 11 12
Germany 25 20 21 21

The rankings include ranking of various aspects of running a business. Some rankings for 2008: Dealing with Construction Permits (Singapore and New Zealand 2nd, USA 26th, China 176th), Employing Workers (Singapore and the USA 1st, Germany 142nd), protecting investors (New Zealand 1st, Singapore 2nd, Hong Kong 3rd, Malaysia 4th, USA 5th), enforcing contracts (Singapore 1st, Hong Kong 2nd, USA 6th, China 18th), getting credit (Malaysia 1st; UK and Hong Kong 2nd; Singapore, New Zealand and USA 5th), paying taxes (Hong Kong 3rd, USA 46th, Japan 112th, China 132nd).

These rankings are not the final word on exactly where each country truly ranks but they do provide a interesting view. With this type of data there is plenty of room for judgment and issues with the data. Several of my posts, from my other blogs, that I recommend on this topic: The Future is Engineering, Science and Engineering in Global Economics and Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation.

Related: Easiest Countries from Which to Operate Businesses 2007Countries Which are Easiest for Doing Business 2006New Look American ManufacturingTop Manufacturing Countries (2007)Oil Consumption by CountryInternational Health Care System PerformanceEconomics, America and China

Global Manufacturing Data 2007

The updated data from the United Nations on manufacturing output by country clearly shows the USA remains by far the largest manufacturer in the world. UN Data, in billions of current US dollars:

Country 1990 1995 2000 2005 2006 2007
USA 1,041 1,289 1,543 1,663 1,700 1,831
China 143 299 484 734 891 1,106
Japan 804 1,209 1.034 954 934 926
Germany 438 517 392 566 595 670
Russian Federation 211 104 73 222 281 362
Italy 240 226 206 289 299 345
United Kingdom 207 219 228 269 303 342
France 224 259 190 249 248 296
Korea 65 129 134 200 220 241
Canada 92 100 129 177 195 218

See manufacturing data for more countries.

The USA’s share of the manufacturing output of the countries that manufactured over $200 billion in 2007 (the 12 countries on the top of the chart above) in 1990 was 28%, 1995 28%, 2000 33%, 2005 30%, 2006 28%, 2007 27%. China’s share has grown from 4% in 1990, 1995 7%, 2000 11%, 2005 13%, 2006 15%, 2007 16%.

Total manufacturing output in the USA was up 76% in 2007 from the 1990 level. Japan, the second largest manufacturer in 1990, and third today, has increased output 15% (the lowest of the top 12, France is next lowest at 32%) while China is up an amazing 673% (Korea is next at an increase of 271%).
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Webcast on the Toyota Development Process

Kenji Hiranabe talks about Toyota’s development process (webcast). Kenji shares a presentation he attended earlier this year by Nobuaki Katayama, a former Chief Engineer at Toyota, and the lessons he learned from him.

The webcast takes awhile to get going. If you are impatient you might want to start at the 6 minute mark. Some thoughts from the talk:

  • Voice of the Customer is diffuse. A strong concept (for a project – new car for example) is very important to focus thought, listening to voice of the customer is important but must use strong concept to avoid losing focus (due to diffuse customer feedback).
  • Honest face to face communication is important. Bad news first – present bad news first [don’t try to hide bad news – my thoughts in brackets, John Hunter].
  • Everyone must think about cost reduction, many efforts add up to big impact [the importance of reducing waste everywhere].
  • benchmark, not to copy others, but to learn from what others do well.

The webcast includes a nice (though short) discussion of agile management in software development and lean manufacturing (the different situation of manufacturing versus software development). Kenji Hiranabe has also translated several agile and lean books into Japanese including Implementing Lean Software Development.

Related: Kenji Hiranabe’s blogMarissa Mayer Webcast on Google InnovationArticles and webcasts by Mary PoppendieckFuture Directions for Agile ManagementInterview with Toyota President

Toyota Winglet – Personal Transportation Assistance

Winglet Personal Mobility Device from Toyota

Toyota has a long term vision. The population of Japan is aging rapidly. Toyota has invested in personal transportation and personal robotic assistance for quite some time. I must admit this new Winglet doesn’t seem like an incredible breakthrough to me (their earlier iUnit seems much better to me – though I am sure much more expensive too). The interest to me is in their continued focus on this market which I think is a smart move. The aging population worldwide (and others) will benefit greatly from improved personal mechanical assistance.

The Winglet is one of Toyota’s people-assisting Toyota Partner Robots. Designed to contribute to society by helping people enjoy a safe and fully mobile life, the Winglet is a compact (you stand just above the wheels and it reaches about the level of your knees) next-generation everyday transport tool that offers advanced ease of use and expands the user’s range of mobility.

The Winglet consists of a body that houses an electric motor, two wheels and internal sensors that constantly monitor the user’s position and make adjustments in power to ensure stability. Meanwhile, a unique parallel link mechanism allows the rider to go forward, backward and turn simply by shifting body weight, making the vehicle safe and useful even in tight spaces or crowded environments.

Toyota plans various technical and consumer trials to gain feedback during the Winglet’s lead-up to practical use. Practical tests of its utility as a mobility tool are planned to begin in Autumn 2008 at Central Japan International Airport (Centrair) near Nagoya, and Laguna Gamagori, a seaside marine resort complex in Aichi Prefecture. Testing of its usefulness in crowded and other conditions, and how non-users react to the device, is to be carried out in 2009 at the Tressa Yokohama shopping complex in Yokohama City.

Toyota is pursuing sustainability in research and development, manufacturing and social contribution as part of its concept to realize “sustainability in three areas” and to help contribute to the health and comfort of future society. Toyota Partner Robot development is being carried out with this in mind and applies Toyota’s approach to monozukuri (“making things”), which includes its mobility, production and other technologies.

Toyota aims to realize the practical use of Toyota Partner Robots in the early 2010s.

On a personal note, I bought some more Toyota stock two weeks ago. The stock had declined a bit recently. Toyota is one of the companies in my 12 stocks for 10 years portfolio.

Related: Toyota Develops Personal Transport Assistance Robot ‘Winglet’No Excessive Senior Executive Pay at ToyotaMore on Non-Auto Toyota

Overview of 5 Nations Health Care Systems

PBS presents a very nice overview of the heath care systems in Japan, United Kingdom, Germany, Taiwan and Switzerland in: Sick Around the World. It is a just a surface view of the overall system but even so does a good job of providing more understanding of the options available to fix the failed system in the USA. The US system costs over 50% more than others and has worse outcome measures than the alternatives (and leaves many without any coverage). And while the alternatives are not perfect the defenders of the status quo make claims about the alternatives are not accurate.

Table combines data from my previous post, International Health Care System Performance, and the PBS website:

Australia Canada Germany Japan Netherlands New Zealand Switzerland Taiwan UK USA
National health spending – Percent of GDP 9.5% 9.8% 10.7% 8.0% 9.2% 9.0% 11.6% 6.3% 8.3% 16.0%
Percent uninsured 0 0 <1 <2 0 0 16

Switzerland, spending 11.6% of GDP on health care, is the 2nd most expensive in the world.

Related: USA Spent $2.1 Trillion on Health Care in 2006Measuring the Health of Nations (USA ranks 19th of 19 nations studied)Drug Prices in the USAUSA Health Care Costs 16% of GDP (2006)Deadly Diseases of Western Management5 Million Lives Campaign

Inside Honda’s Brain

Inside Honda’s brain by Alex Taylor III

why is Honda playing with robots? Or, for that matter, airplanes? Honda is building a factory in North Carolina to manufacture the Hondajet, a sporty twin-engine runabout that carries six passengers. Or solar energy? Honda has established a subsidiary to make and market thin-film solar-power cells. Or soybeans? Honda grows soybeans in Ohio so that it can fill up cargo containers being shipped back to Japan. The list goes on. All this sounds irrelevant to a company that built some 24 million engines last year and stuffed them into everything from cars to weed whackers.

Since 2002 its revenues have grown nearly 40%, to $94.8 billion. Its operating profits, with margins ranging from 7.3% to 9.1%, are among the best in the industry.

The wellspring of Honda’s creative juices is Honda R&D, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honda Motor. Based in Saitama, west of Tokyo, R&D engineers create every product that Honda makes – from lawn mowers to motorcycles and automobiles – and pursue projects like Asimo and Hondajet on the side. Defiantly individualistic, R&D insists on devising its own solutions and shuns outside alliances. On paper it reports to Honda Motor, but it is powerful enough to have produced every CEO since the company was founded in 1948.

The engineer in Fukui [Honda’s president and CEO] cannot help but be intrigued by what his former colleagues are up to, and his office is only a few steps away from Kato’s. But even with the CEO just down the hall, says Kato, “We want to look down the road. We do not want to be influenced by the business.”

mistakes like the Insight are also the exception. R&D has provided Honda with a long list of engineering firsts that consumers liked, including the motorcycle airbag, the low-polluting four-stroke marine engine, and ultralow-emission cars.

Related: Toyota as HomebuilderS&P 500 CEOs – More Engineering GraduatesMore on Non-Auto ToyotaAsimo Robot, Running and Climbing StairsApplied ResearchGoogle Engineering Energy

Toyota Presses On

At Toyota, a Global Giant Reaches for Agility

With plants in 27 countries, more new factories under construction and workers speaking languages that include Russian and Turkish, Toyota’s top executives are trying a difficult balancing act – replicating the company’s success and operating principles in other countries while ceding more control to these new outposts at the same time.

Next year, it expects to sell more than 10.4 million cars worldwide, double what it sold in 2000.

At Motomachi, more than 3,000 tasks on the assembly line have been translated into video manuals that are displayed on laptop computers above 30 simulated workstations, situated where their functions would be carried out inside the factory.

The videos show everything from the correct way to hold a screw to the best way to hold an air gun so that a worker’s hand will not tire in a few hours. This month, workers from Toyota’s plant in Thailand took part in training required for jobs in their plant’s paint shop. Listening as an interpreter translated from Japanese into Thai, the workers were shown how to bend their knees and spray a water gun across a clear panel of Plexiglas.

Yet another article on the management of Toyota. And here is another: Toyota heir slowly following in family footsteps. And another: Toyota explores more efficient methods to build cars.

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