Yazaki finds humans are essential, not obsolete, in the future

DETROIT — For Yazaki North America, adaptability, innovation and competitiveness come from humans — not machines.

The Japanese wire harness supplier this week touted that humans are integral to its advanced monozukuri approach to Industry 4.0. Monozukuri manufacturing is not only a process but also a philosophy, Doug Neely, director of advanced monozukuri research at Yazaki, said during a presentation at the Detroit auto show.

He said the Japanese term can be translated as “the spirit by which things are made” or “the way to make things and the way to develop human beings.” The goal for the approach is to let the product and its demand drive when and how the company delivers automation technologies to its customers.

Neely said this means the automotive industry cannot talk about automation with the idea to use fewer people, or reduce payroll. Instead, he said the industry needs to find right ways to apply automation — to empower, to promote and to support human goals and values.

“There is a lot of pressure in the industry to automate, and manufacturers are tempted to over-promise the delivery of technology without clearly understanding the business goals or the product conditions needed to create real value through automation,” said Neely. “The monozukuri concept helps us focus on our priorities and cultivate the spirit of continuous improvement and investment in the people that help companies and their services thrive.”

For auto suppliers, such philosophies are key to the continuous improvement — and cost savings — needed to compete for new business with automaker customers. Yazaki’s North American CEO, Bo Andersson, presided over General Motors’ purchasing department for several years, and he was well known for making these demands on his supply chain. Now he’s on the other end of that equation.