Now that we’ve celebrated Labor Day, it’s officially “back to school” season in America. Of course, many kids have already been in the classroom for days, if not weeks, already (that’s something that I always have a hard time accepting). It’s also football season, of course, and on gridirons all across the country, you can hear cheerleaders and fans yelling their favorite fight songs.
No matter what school colors or mascots you are loyal to, I bet you’ve never heard anyone yell “Let’s Go Monozukuri!” That’s a Japanese word that refers to the art of “product manufacturing” or “making things.”
Last year, Nissan Motor Co. (Tokyo) kicked off a campaign called the Nissan Monozukuri Caravan. The educational program provides 5th graders in Japan with hands-on manufacturing experience in a classroom environment. Nissan employees plan to visit 100 schools this year.
The 90-minute lesson is delivered in two hands-on sessions. First, students learn about kaizen and process improvement, using small plastic blocks. Kids are divided into groups and each individual is assigned a role, such as assembly, logistics, inspection or time-keeping to create two toy vehicles. I think that’s a great way to learn about how an assembly line works. In fact, I participated in a similar exercise a few years ago during a lean training seminar, except we made airplanes instead of cars.
Based on the results, an instructor asks the kids for feedback, and encourages them to suggest ways to make the process go faster and more efficiently, while reducing quality glitches. Then, the students repeat the process and celebrate their ability to make more vehicles more accurately than the first time.
Next, students get to experience actual monozukuri as they come in contact with real automotive parts and tools under the supervision of veteran assemblers. They use torque wrenches and impact wrenches to tighten and loosen bolts. The kids also compete to see how fast then can solve a wooden puzzle by using just their fingers.
“I hope that students learn the importance of teamwork in manufacturing, and the intention to make good quality products,” says Tadao Takahashi, the vice chairman of Nissan who initiated the educational program. “Students get to experience the fun and difficulties of manufacturing, and learn that bringing together small ideas can lead to a big effect.”
I applaud Nissan for its efforts. There’s a big need in this country to put some excitement and glamour back into the engineering profession and the manufacturing industry. To achieve that goal, educational outreach must be a top priority.
Sure, there have been some noble efforts to create buzz amount young Americans, such as the LEGO League robotics competition and the National Association of Manufacturers (Washington, DC) “Dream It. Do It.” campaign. But, I believe a lot more needs to done to attract the eyes, ears and hearts of younger kids.
I’d love to see a program similar to Nissan’s tried in the United States. Why doesn’t one of Detroit’s Big 3 take up the challenge? Perhaps Nissan (or one of its Japanese rivals) should implement something. Or, how about a big American manufacturer from the non-automotive sector, such as Boeing, Caterpillar, General Electric, ITW or United Technologies? It could be a valuable classroom lesson that’s better late than never.