- Course: Mechanical Engineering MEng
This year, I was one of three engineering students from the Faculty of Engineering given the opportunity to live and work in Japan at the Toyota Boshoku Corporation for 10 weeks.
Being able to see Japan was incredible. It was my first real experience away from the UK for a long period of time and a fantastic chance to immerse myself in a new and very unique culture.
We stayed in a company-owned, dormitory right next to the plant which housed over 4,000 employees of Toyota Boshoku. We had to adjust to an 8 hour time difference, cope with a huge change in diet, decipher a new currency and completely foreign language with thousands of unfamiliar sounds and symbols. We met a lot of people and struggled to communicate at first but we’d had a helpful crash course in Japanese before leaving and we used online translators to help get the ball rolling.
It was bizarre finding myself in meeting rooms not being able to understand a single word but yet being able to recognise familiar intonations and gestures which somehow gave me an impression of what was going on. By the end I really came to value language in all its forms!
The main project I worked on looked at improving the airflow efficiency of a seat ventilation system used in the Toyota Corolla. My contribution came from testing different materials for their pressure loss characteristics which was critical in determining the fabrics that most easily allowed air to pass through them. In addition, I helped to investigate how these materials felt to the user so as to conceal any air holes in the seats which they were being used to cover. The experience helped me to see just how detailed technical analysis can become and how certain mathematical techniques I learnt at University could be applied to real problems in industry. A notable feat for me was presenting our project outcomes to the company president and a number of other senior members of staff in a large auditorium.
I found it fascinating to see how much work went into something like a car seat. The numerous safety regulations, the considerations towards comfort as well as how robust and precise things needed to be before being released.
A visit to Toyota’s ‘Kaikan’ plant opened my eyes to the sheer scale of automobile production. We were taken to a ‘just-in-time’ production line where I saw the speed at which this relatively small plant operated at. The workers did not stop moving and even had markers specifying how much time they were allowed to take on each assembly process. The plant ran like clockwork and put together over 500 cars each day.
I learnt a lot about Japanese work ethic in the field of Engineering and spent time comparing it to my experiences in the UK. It made me realise that nations, like people, possess different qualities and that it is worthwhile for everyone to work globally in order to reap all the benefits.