Striving forward with Monozukuri

Where a New Technology is Born

Striving forward with Monozukuri

Striving forward with Monozukuri

When you get into the cockpit of a car, you always look at the instrument panel. Calsonic Kansei has developed a new technique for wrapping this important component using a single sheet of leather. This technique can bring an overwhelming sense of quality to the interior space of a car. Let’s find out how it was created.

Development of instrument panel leather-wrapping technique: Yoshida, Kanemasa, Sugimoto, Takayama

Striving forward with Monozukuri
”We were working with leather for the first time. It is unmistakably a ‘living thing. ’” ”We were working with leather for the first time. It is unmistakably a ‘living thing. ’”
”We were working with leather for the first time. It is unmistakably a ‘living thing. ’” ”We were working with leather for the first time. It is unmistakably a ‘living thing. ’”

”We were working with leather for the first time. It is unmistakably a ‘living thing. ’”

Deep within the spacious Production Engineering Center at Yoshimi-machi, Saitama Prefecture, is a quiet spot known as the Interior Technology Development Area. This is where leather-wrapping techniques are developed, and access to this special area is limited to only certain employees.

However, when the then-unheard of challenge of leather-wrapping with a single sheet of leather came up, this building wasn’t yet built. “It was the first time we were working with leather, so we started by visiting totally different sectors, such as shoe factories and leather laboratories," said Sugimoto. The team researched, contacted, and then asked to visit these places. But the first thing was to explain what kind of company Calsonic Kansei is.

”What are the characteristics of leather, and how should it be handled? We really couldn’t imagine this, so we kept looking for information," said Yoshida. Kanemasa added that they came to understand that: “Real leather is totally different from synthetic leather. It is a ‘living thing.' Every piece is different, with its own characteristics and different stiffness and ability to stretch." However, as the team handled the material, they slowly came to see how to go about the development process. It might have been a start from zero, but it was supported by the many Monozukuri techniques nurtured by Calsonic Kansei over the years.

”We challenged ourselves with high targets from the start in anticipation of the future” ”We challenged ourselves with high targets from the start in anticipation of the future”
”We challenged ourselves with high targets from the start in anticipation of the future” ”We challenged ourselves with high targets from the start in anticipation of the future”

”We challenged ourselves with high targets from the start in anticipation of the future”

Elite members from the testing, engineering, and development departments joined up, and the project got underway. It was a long road towards mass production, with checks using 3D printers, and evaluation using prototypes and real models. However, speed is required in development. The team looked into what could be done to speed up development and shorten the lead time.

Of course, because instrument panels are used in cars, there were an enormous number of inspections that needed to be cleared, from product quality to safety standards. Yoshida explained that this is because instrument panels are used at the place with the harshest conditions in a car’s interior, where they are subject to direct sunlight. “We needed to carefully check that the dimensions would not change due to temperature differences after shipping from the leather manufacturer," added Takayama. The leather must be able to adapt to and withstand any kind of environment in the world. Even under such strict conditions, the team members challenged themselves by setting high targets in everything from cost to man hours. “We set high targets in anticipation of the future," said Yoshida. At this time, the team was already thinking about what would happen after mass production was achieved, and the future beyond that.

”We challenged ourselves with high targets from the start in anticipation of the future” ”We challenged ourselves with high targets from the start in anticipation of the future”

”We challenged ourselves with high targets from the start in anticipation of the future”

”We challenged ourselves with high targets from the start in anticipation of the future”
”We challenged ourselves with high targets from the start in anticipation of the future”
”We didn’t want to leave things half done because of everyone’s expectations” ”We didn’t want to leave things half done because of everyone’s expectations”
”We didn’t want to leave things half done because of everyone’s expectations” ”We didn’t want to leave things half done because of everyone’s expectations”

”We didn’t want to leave things half done because of everyone’s expectations”

”There were three main issues," said Takayama. The first was stitching. Beautiful stitch lines can enhance the leather’s sense of quality. “It was hard to get a straight line. Everyone kept trying to see how we could attach the leather with a straight stitch line. It looks ugly if the line is crooked," explained Sugimoto.

The second issue was adhesion. Yoshida explained, “In order for the surface to remain unchanged under any kind of environment, the leather needs to adhere to the instrument panel without any irregularities." Therefore, a dedicated adhesion and clamping machine was developed to uniformly coat the uneven shape of the instrument panels with adhesive and then clamp them.

The third issue was appearance, and the main problem was wrinkles. As a “living thing," leather has wrinkles. “The way wrinkles appear changes depending on how it is stretched. After numerous tries, we managed to work out how to get rid of wrinkles, and we formalized the process into a manual. No one wanted to leave things half done. That’s because everyone had their own expectations," said Sugimoto.

”We didn’t want to leave things half done because of everyone’s expectations” ”We didn’t want to leave things half done because of everyone’s expectations”

In fact, mass production was achieved in the amazingly short time of about a year after full-scale development started. This was likely due to the speedy collaboration across departments, and “the full support of the company, which gave us the development area without a second thought," said Takayama. But when asked about the reason for success, Kanemasa replied jokingly, “Maybe it’s because I’m so talented?" and Sugimoto added, “Maybe it was because we had good superiors?" This cheerful mood probably contributed to their success in no small way.

”Development was fun, and that’s why ideas kept coming” ”Development was fun, and that’s why ideas kept coming”
”Development was fun, and that’s why ideas kept coming” ”Development was fun, and that’s why ideas kept coming”

”Development was fun, and that’s why ideas kept coming”

Kanemasa explained: ”As we went about development, there was one thing we kept in mind, and that was to maintain a fun atmosphere no matter how hard things became. I think that’s why ideas kept coming. Even when upper management checked in on us, they would ask, ‘Are you enjoying yourselves?' It is the company culture to carry out development in an enjoyable way." When asked about his favorite place, he replied that it was the development area. It’s a dream for someone’s work place to also be their favorite place.

Even though mass production has already been achieved, Kanemasa thinks that we are only halfway there. Currently, it is a technique meant for luxury cars, but it may be possible to apply this technique to mass-production cars with some additional work to the mass production system. This would mean that Calsonic Kansei’s production plants all over the world can carry out mass production using this same technique. The journey continues as the team take on the next challenge towards the targets they have set.

”Development was fun, and that’s why ideas kept coming” ”Development was fun, and that’s why ideas kept coming”
”Development was fun, and that’s why ideas kept coming”