Daisuke Ban has a Master of Science degree in Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering. He joined Komatsu in 1998. Although he was assigned to the Manufacturing Engineering Development Center, he was sent to the assembly lines for construction equipment at the Osaka Plant to learn about shop floor operations for one year. He was fascinated and was quickly drawn into the work of the production site. Thus, he requested to be placed in the Manufacturing Engineering Department and was responsible for assembly lines until 2001. In 2002, he was transferred to the Reform Department and developed plans to cut production costs. In May 2005, he was transferred to Komatsu UK Ltd. He was in charge of the production start-up of a new model as a planning advisor. Until the end of 2008, he was also working as a production advisor, improving logistics and global procurement. He returned to Japan in 2009, and was involved in the start-up of two lines for large equipment by incorporating improved productivity and product quality as a member of the Large Equipment Assembly Section, Production Division of the Osaka Plant. In April 2011, he moved to the Production Management Section, where he currently works.
Facing reality, thinking beyond conventional ideas and putting things in action.
Instead of studying, I spent most of my student life playing rugby. In fact, rugby brought me to Komatsu. A friend of mine from high school joined Komatsu and entered the company's rugby team. Whenever they didn't have enough players, they called me to fill in the spot, although I was still a college student. Through these games, I was able to experience a kind of atmosphere the company had, but at that time I was not thinking of working for Komatsu. It was only after job-hunting, that I realized this company was suited for me to enjoy my work without constraints.
Upon joining Komatsu, I was placed in the Manufacturing Engineering Development Center as requested. Now that I think about it, I secretly wanted to be called a “researcher.” Because “nobody can study manufacturing engineering without knowledge of production on the shop floor,” I was sent out to work at the assembly lines for construction equipment as manufacturing engineer during my first year. It was there that I was totally attracted by the actual production on the shop floor. Before working for this company, I didn't have any particular interest in making things. However, as I gained more experience in the production sites, I was drawn into the heart of experiencing improvements, because people on the shop floor gave me feedbacks on my ideas based on observations and thoughts. I started to consider staying on the shop floor. As a year passed by, sensing my feelings, the manager of the Manufacturing Engineering Department asked me, “Working on the shop floor is really interesting, isn't it? What are you going to do from now on?” I decided to stay on the shop floor, and reported my decision to the general manager of the Manufacturing Engineering Development Center. After the second year and onward, I was able to work with manufacturing engineering.
The mission of manufacturing engineering calls for how efficiently you can produce things and yet spend less money while maintaining the quality. To this end, I am struggling to improve the efficiency of production lines every day. For example, when starting up the production line for new models, we need to prepare equipment, such as jigs (tools used to determine the position of parts during assembly) and hooks, in order to run the line without any loss. However well we are prepared to start a new line, it is common to take about 2 to3 times more than the planned line-pitch (the average manufacturing time for one unit). “How do we lower the line pitch?” “Where is the problem?” As I looked for the answers, I realized that the proficiency of the workers were equally important as machinery, jigs and hoisting tools. For every product, we have an assembly procedure guidebook with over several hundred pages. Some workers look through the book before production start-up, while others don’t. The amount they study varies considerably. Workers on the shop floor are fundamentally responsible for the proficiency of their procedure. However, in order to increase the efficiency, I thought manufacturing engineering was indispensable and thus I needed to work with them to solve the problem of disparity of the workers’ proficiency.
Thus to solve the problem, I proposed a plan for using a 3D CAD screen and have the workers experience virtual assembling. Despite the fact that it was only my third year in the company, my boss accepted my idea and over 100 foremen and workers came to the meeting. After 3 months of experiencing virtual assembling, we started a line and were able to reduce the line pitch from the conventional 2 to 3 times to 1.3 times. As the workers’ proficiency increased, product quality and productivity improved, resulting in larger profits. As the workers themselves participate in the development of their own procedure of production, attitudes of the entire workplace toward Monozukuri elevated substantially. What I did was nothing special but I just went back to the fundamental mission of manufacturing engineering. But this experience game me big self-confidence.
What brought me back to the Reform Department was my suggestion based on changes in the design, when I heard someone asking if it was possible to lower the production costs. Then I was told to start working on it, and I got involved in the new job where I worked together with a designer to develop design plans to lower production costs. Being a manufacturing engineer, I was also able to experience improvements in the design stage.
Furthermore, after leaving Japan for a new post in Komatsu UK Ltd. (KUK), I was involved in the production start-up of a new model as planning advisor. Additionally, I was also given the position of production advisor responsible for manufacturing engineering. However, workers showed resistance because they didn't like the fact that a youngster from Japan was able to order them around to improve operation. Thus, I decided to do everything on my own first, so I tidied up equipment, and moved jigs. By showing them that my ideas actually increased the efficiency, I was able to gain their trust. Since I was not good at speaking English, whenever I wanted to tell them something, the staffs brought me a white board for me to draw diagrams. The workers tried their best to understand what I was saying.
Later, I was involved with not only the production sites, but also with global purchasing and logistics. As I experienced a variety of roles, I repeated my fact-finding efforts to “figure out what is happening” and “look for an ideal state” of every place on the shop floor. As a result, while KUK was only able to produce 3,000 units per year before, it became able to produce 6,000 units. By learning that my experience and approaches gained in Japan was useful outside of Japan, my field of vision widened.
Looking into Monozukuri on a global basis.
Manufacturing engineers do not make any physical products. Instead we are like spices in a recipe, and yet also serve as the main ingredient of improving production capacity and product quality. Having the best technology and product doesn’t have any values, unless a company has a production capacity to deliver its products timely in response to customers’ needs. Rather than meeting their needs with excessive production capacity, manpower and inventory, I find it more important to develop an approach in which all related departments, such as design, production, manufacturing engineering and purchasing, can collaborate and maximize outputs with minimal efforts. However, this is very difficult to do. We struggle to find the best approach by getting together with other departments to share ideas and make adjustments. Repeating these steps, I came to realize that it is more important to be able to do what is expected than to develop a revolutionary manufacturing engineering method.Repeating “fact finding” efforts, I realized the importance of what extent we could improve our product quality and production efficiency. Equally important is how quickly and accurately we can transfer our Japanese production system of “built-in” quality to overseas plants. Thus, there is no value for any improvements or investments that would apply only to one plant or in Japan. However tough the challenge may be, I believe manufacturing engineers are responsible for developing a high-level system of Monozukuri from the start with an eye to engaging in production at all Komatsu Group plants around the world.
For me, manufacturing engineering is a very interesting job. I find it similar to the feeling I had for playing rugby. Rugby required a spirit of self-sacrifice. Even if you do not get the spot light in a game, you need to be able to feel good about helping the team win. This kind of a mindset is also needed in the job of manufacturing engineering. There are other lessons I learned from playing rugby that are useful in the job I have now. For example, I played the center position in the team, and I was responsible for choosing the most appropriate offensive play by judging the position of the wing (two players who receive the pass and aim for a try), and the fullback (the defensive player who participates in offence when there is a chance). Similarly, manufacturing engineers are required to watch the situation of workplaces and develop effective measures instantaneously. I feel my rugby experience is helping me in my work. However, knowledge is also required to develop measures. On top of the scientific knowledge I learned in college, other knowledge in a variety of areas, such as economics and management, has also been useful. Looking back, I regret that I didn’t study enough in school.
Observing carefully, thinking deeply, and using your body are the basics of manufacturing engineering. I know I would never get the spotlight, but knowing that I am sustaining Komatsu’s Monozukuri around the world, my job is extremely satisfying. The harder I work, the more fascinating the job becomes.
Questions to Mr. Ban
- Q1. What kind of a student were you?
- I barely studied in school. (said laughingly) Born in the “School Wars” (*) generation, I became fascinated by rugby ever since I was an elementary school student, and I remained so until I graduated from college.
* A TV show aired between 1984 and 1985. About a nameless high school rugby team stimulated by a very passionate teacher and becoming the high school champion rugby team.
- Q2. What were some difficulties and “gaps” you faced after you joined Komatsu?
- - I am sure that I faced a variety of difficulties time after time, but I don't have a particular problem that I can remember. Hardships in life give people the chance to grow. No pain, no gain. I felt a “gap” when I realized, to my great surprise, that my knowledge from the physics class was useful in this job. Although I majored in science in college, I hated mathematics and loved physics, because it is consistent with the phenomena. In physics, we try to understand the natural phenomena by analyzing matters and the interaction of the components of matters. This approach has been very useful in my work.
- Q3. What do you do during your holidays?
- - I often spend time playing with my three daughters. I am also thinking about starting rugby again. For now, I am working to build strength to get ready for my come back.
- Q4. What book do you recommend to students and why?
- - I recommend that students read newspapers. When starting work, it is also important even for engineers to understand economic changes. For example, unless you understand the economic conditions, you won’t be able to determine your planned investment in facilities will be competitive for business in three or five years. Of course, it is difficult to understand everything. In addition, some newspaper articles are fragmentary and subjective. However, as you read on, you will come across words that are being repeated all the time. Pay your attention to those keywords and study them if you don’t know them. In addition to understanding the meaning of the article, I recommend that you look into the essence of it. In this way, you will be able to enhance your insights.