In the second of three visits, Monocle meets more of the takumi of Lexus. The highly-skilled staff are masters of kansei: the Japanese word refers to a sensitivity, an ability, to perceive things that most people would miss. That’s what Lexus expects of its factory workers.
They must feel for vibrations or listen for rattles that they know shouldn’t be there. They are trained to spot things that aren’t quite right – the positioning of a part, for instance, even if it’s only off by a few millimetres. The importance Lexus places on kansei reflects the company’s core philosophy. It assumes that no machine can make the perfect car – only people. It leaves the hardest part of car production – the inspections, tiniest adjustments and intuitive fixes to people – the takumi. It’s what sets a Lexus apart from any other car.
Tanaka has worked assembly-line shifts his entire career. He began his journey at Lexus in charge of the chassis, before moving on to the process of preparing new models for production. In this role, Tanaka was responsible for deciding which parts would be assembled in what order, to ensure the new model line would run as smoothly as possible.
As the vehicle assembly takumi, Tanaka now leads a crew that puts the finishing touches on the parts that have been completed by their colleagues at the press, body and painting stations. They bolt on doors and wheels, attach headlights, insert the dashboard and connect electronic circuitry – all told there are 350 steps in this section. What they do requires dedication, artistry, precision and speed – enough of each to acquire the Lexus Skill Certification. They get only two minutes per car for each process. And yet, all 2,800 parts must align and connect precisely – exactly as detailed on the original blueprints, and assembled to the strictest of standards. “It is my responsibility to make sure that each worker maintains their skill set at the same level as when they first acquired their certification. To make sure of this, I check their work with my own eyes every day, and give them personal advice and instruction,” he says. This process of handing down knowledge from personal experience refines the process – ensuring Lexus vehicles are built with consistently high precision.