The Story of Sakichi Toyoda
Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Industries Corporation, possessed a strong ambition to contribute to society from his days as a youth. He had devoted his 63-year-long life to invention.
For MIRAI—For the Future Chapter 5
Group No. 111
The oxygen-supplying air compressor for FCVs. This development story started with reducing noise and vibration, and continued with efforts to improve efficiency, including improving the responsiveness, acceleration, and fuel efficiency of the motor. To better communicate details of these, for convenience sake, we will introduce these in order. It is difficult to say which of these elements came in which order during actual development, as these were often confronted at the same time, and often, development of these was interlinked. The development process may well give priority to certain elements, however all were important in achieving a quality product.
Overseeing this development was Mr. Nakane. In the first year after joining the company, he was involved in design of the hydrogen pump, and also became familiar with development of the air compressor and of the hydrogen circulation pump.
"Up until now, I have been involved with Toyota's FCHV and FCHV-adv, but the FCV is different to these, in that it will be sold to the general public. Meaning the development work that I have been involved in is finally seeing the light of day, which makes me very happy."
Since joining the company, Mr. Nakane has been involved with the gradual evolution of fuel cell vehicles. What has he learned from this development work?
"The most important thing would be the close communication between everyone involved in development—Toyota Motor Corporation, Toyota Group companies, suppliers, internal departments, and others. This enabled rapid feedback regarding problems or requests, and we were able to use this feedback in development. Here we have introduced only the development part of the process; including production would show more ups and downs. There is so much left to talk about. Being able to achieve all that we have managed in the short time from 2010 until November 2014 when the car first came off the production line is all down to the efforts of our members, and everyone else involved. I would like to thank everybody so much. All members of our team, including myself have overcome continuous difficulties, and in the process grown by leaps and bounds."
The development work being carried out by Mr. Nakane here is totally different to work on air compressors for air-conditioners, and he has been steadily active in aiding related companies in understanding the significance of developing this product. By hoping to increase understanding of product development, he was trying to create a better work environment. Creating a product that is a world-first requires the utmost effort. The mindset was to lay the groundwork in other than technical areas, so that all members on this project could concentrate on development.
The MIRAI went on sale in December 2014, with production of 700 vehicles planned by the end of 2015. This figure will be increased to 2,000 vehicles for 2016, and 3,000 for 2017. In the one month since going on sale, the MIRAI has proved very popular, with Toyota already receiving orders for approximately 1,500 vehicles.
"In the future, as the MIRAI becomes more widespread, we are sure to see new problems emerge, and new requirements. While working to resolve these problems, we will standardize, and use what we have learned in future activities. Even if vehicle performance requirements change, we will have in place a system to rapidly respond to these, and to provide even better products."
The end of one development process is the start of another. Mr. Nakane in no way thinks that this product is the end goal.
"Development is a process that in itself never ends. Subsequent issues are not only increasing performance, but also how we can reduce costs. Especially given the spread of environmentally friendly vehicles."
With the aim of solving various issues, they have the determination to review everything involved in this air compressor, which took so much effort to complete. What this means is to question everything that has been made up until now, and if necessary start again from zero.
"We gave our all to the development of this air compressor, but I am sure we can do better. What can we do to further reduce size? Can we make it lighter? Is this helical root type really the best way to increase performance and drop costs? Are there any other ways we can do this? Resting on our laurels will not get us anywhere. I mean, at first we used the scroll type. But after reexamination, we switched to the helical root type. At present, the helical type may well be the best option, however we need to be prepared, if we find a better type, to have the maturity to discard this work and start anew."
We felt his conviction as an engineer in his words, and although he was speaking calmly, we recognized the passion in his eyes. If you are shackled by the past, then you will not be able to create new products. This may well be a motto unique to engineers.
Developers, and in a broad sense technicians, sometimes show genius, and sometimes work in vain. They create products lauded around the world, bathing in the limelight, but may be asked to doubt or repudiate their creations. But the thing is, doubt or even repudiation of a product is the only way to move beyond that product. Not dwelling on past glories, and focusing on the future is a way of life for engineers.
The oxygen-supplying air compressor for FCVs, developed for Toyota Industries was awarded in the technical division of the Toyota Supplier Project Awards in 2015. 3E (Environment, Ecology & Energy) is one of the pillars supporting our Vision 2020, and we have brilliantly realized this theme of accelerating the development of products friendly to our environment. This history and knowledge gained over 18 years, and the strong will of our engineers are exactly why this dream has come to fruition.