Inside a Lexus factory, you’ll find some of the world’s most advanced technology at work. But every bit as important as the robots and lasers are the skills and techniques that date back centuries, and could never be replicated by a machine.
When it comes to achieving perfect quality and a flawless finish, it’s the judgment of the human hand, eye and ear that counts. These are the talents of the Takumi: craftspeople who have dedicated their life to developing particular skills, and whose work is the defining factor in Lexus’s hand-crafted luxury.
At Lexus, each Takumi has a minimum of 30 years of experience, giving them an unmatched depth of knowledge in their field. To bear the name is the highest honour among the ranks of engineers, and it’s a privilege held by only a few: of the 7 700 workers at Lexus’s Miyata factory, just 19 are Takumi.
TRAINING PEOPLE, TRAINING ROBOTS
Every Takumi has a responsibility to pass on their skills to the next generation, ensuring that essential talents are maintained. But just as much as they teach their human colleagues, they also contribute to designing better robots.
The Takumi provide vital insights when it comes to designing automated processes, to help achieve the best results. For example, the motion of an automated paint-spraying arm matches the sweeping arm movement of
a human master craftsperson.
The Lexus Takumi have a legendary sense of touch, and they use this sensitivity to detect even the slightest imperfections, down to fractions of a millimetre – a level of accuracy a machine cannot match. More than that, a machine can only find flaws it is programmed to detect, making the sharp eyes and fine fingers of the Takumi even more crucial.
SOUND OF SILENCE
Motomachi is the home of Lexus’s LC flagship coupe, where eight Takumi lead quality teams that check every step in the car’s production. At the end of the production line, the finished car moves into a futuristic light-filled glass booth to undergo a detailed inspection by two of the factory’s most skilled craftsmen, covering 700 different check points. All this takes place in complete silence: acute hearing is another Takumi skill, so that any abnormal sounds can be picked up, and their source traced.
Every Takumi needs the right tools for the job, and will even craft these themselves if necessary. That’s the case with Yasuhiro Nakashima, who spent 27 years learning and honing his craft – filing, shaping and polishing the metal moulds used to make the LS’s spindle grille.
He has made his own customised set of tools, including handmade bamboo instruments to shape the finer details. The machines and processes used to make the mould are among the best available, but the perfect finish still requires a remarkable human skill. Nakashima refines surface smoothness to within a tenth of a millimetre – picking out imperfections even the best robotic milling technology cannot detect – and hand-polishes minute surfaces in specific directions to achieve the best reflective qualities.
The beautiful stitched seams of the leather upholstery inside a new Lexus may look simple and elegant, but they take tremendous skill to achieve. For a flawless finish, every stitch has to be precise, every time.
Led by a Takumi, stitching is the work of a dedicated and highly skilled team, selected for their dexterity and attention to detail. Very few make the grade: there are just 12 in the team at Lexus’s Miyata factory.
Every one of them has had to train at a stitching dojo – like a formal martial arts class – for three months, under the Takumi’s direction. Ten different techniques have to be mastered before they can progress to production work.
A wooden steering wheel is one of the traditional hallmarks of a luxury vehicle, but where the Lexus Shimamoku wood is concerned, the production is unique.
Sheets of wood less than 1mm thick are shaved from hardwood logs, then stained and treated to achieve
a mottled effect. The sheets are stacked in alternating bands of contrasting colours, bonded with glue and clamped. Once set fast, the wood is sliced lengthways to create new layers with the special Shimamoku pattern.
It’s a job that involves three different suppliers and 67 separate process, and takes 38 days to complete, with much skilled hand-work in bonding the veneers onto
a solid wood form, sealing and polishing.