Refining Manufacturing


Building trust relationships
focused on quality is a shortcut
to improved product quality

Tomohiro Watanabe

Quality Assurance Department, Electronics Division

He joined the company in 1986. He was assigned to the then Headquarters Electronics Technology Department. When he first entered the company, he was responsible for design, however he took the opportunity of the commencement of electronics parts manufacturing to work in quality assurance. Since then, he has worked in quality assurance in electronics, and presently is the head of the Quality Assurance Department.

Our company's electronics business started on a full scale two years after I joined the company. This was the beginning of electronic components for electric lift trucks. From there, we started handling electronic components for vehicles, such as 100 V AC power sources, and coming into the new century, we started production and sale of critical components such as DC-DC converters. Furthermore, the new four-wheel-drive Prius model launched in December 2015 also employed a rear inverter, which gave us the opportunity to highlight our capabilities in producing very high levels of quality. However, our journey has by no means been an easy one, and as these products evolve, we have been plagued by problems, being unable to increase yields.

Of particular difficulty were relationships with suppliers. Nearly 90% of electronics are made up of purchased components, and the quality of these is very important. However, the majority of parts made by the electronics industry are for use in home electronics, which by their nature have a significant difference in quality from what we demand. Naturally, products for use in vehicles are different, however at first both parties were unable to understand this difference, and even if we worked together in process improvements, achieving results proved difficult. Accordingly, we first prioritized building a relationship of trust, and so we decided to hold direct talks between our top management and that of our suppliers as regards both the significance of quality in the automobile industry as well as process improvements, and also about future direction. These had the effect of both parties starting to understand each other's positions, and suppliers are now responding enthusiastically to both the quality requirements of the automobile industry, and in carrying out process improvements.

The capabilities of increasingly computerized cars will in the near future be dependent on the capabilities of the electronic components themselves. When this happens, having a relationship of trust with proven suppliers will be key to increasing quality. Maintaining quality is difficult without passion, and this easily drops off, but I feel that if we have a trust relationship, continuous improvements are possible. I feel that building a relationship of trust with not only suppliers, but also everyone within the company and outside, one that gives priority to quality is the work of the quality assurance department.