- Corporate profile
Chapter 2Bringing All Our Technologies and Knowledge as a Belt Maker to Bear in Solving the Puzzle
What about a belt might be effective at reducing fuel consumption? The first step in development was to answer this question.
The first step was to determine which of a belt's three constituents-backing, ribs and core wire-prompted a loss of flexure and theorize why this might be. The person assigned to verify theoretical concepts regarding this reduction was Hisato Ishiguro, who had joined the Company two years earlier. Mr. Hineno chose him on the precept that "People who have long experience in designing rubber compounds are likely to have fixed ideas. To come up with altogether new technologies, we need somebody without any preconceived notions." Never having expected to be involved in new product development so early on, Mr. Ishiguro was both excited at the opportunity and apprehensive about the prospect. Encouraged by the words "It's all right to make mistakes. Just give it your best shot," he proceeded according to his own reasoning and went to work analyzing rubber materials and belt data.
Another urgent issue was to establish a method for measuring friction loss. Takayuki Shige of the testing department was able to come up with a measurement method by using testing equipment designed for another purpose by the head of the technology department, which handled the development and manufacture of testing and manufacturing equipment. His first time using this equipment, he spent each day looking at the testing device's torque meter and a month trying to resolve the issue of variations in the measured results. It became possible to measure friction losses down to a precision of 0.1Nm. From there, he moved on to measure losses for each of the constituent parts of the belt. Ultimately, the team discovered that the compounding of the rib rubber had the greatest impact on reducing loss. This result came around six months after the start of development.
How could we achieve the conflicting aims of improving fuel efficiency and lowering noise generation resistance? After days of searching for an optimal rubber compound, the answer became clear.
At the start of development, many of the members thought the limiting factor was not the rubber compound but rather the shape. However, once the team had narrowed down the problem to the rib rubber compound, the development vector of resolving noise generation was decided. However, eradicating that noise proved to be a thorny issue.
For many years, development had concentrated on reducing internal heat buildup in the belt, but in addition to noise generation resistance these methods also caused friction resistance and productivity to worsen. How was the team to ensure friction resistance and productivity, while at the same time achieving the noise generation resistance the customer was calling for?
Hisato Ishiguro took the lead in referencing the Company's massive materials database, developing compounds through a process of repeated trial and error and then on the processing front, considering blending and rolling conditions. The process repeated: Mr. Hineno determined whether the result was viable, Mr. Imai collaborated with the factory production department to manufacture the belt for testing, and Mr. Shige conducted sound tests on actual vehicles. Repetitions continued at a fast pace, with a new iteration nearly every week. Team members were busy, as they were doing this testing alongside other tasks, but when Mr. Tamura returned from reporting development progress to the customer, all the members of the technology department gathered together, younger members and veterans alike, putting their heads together to consider the next method of attack.
Recalling an everyday saying of Chairman Nishikawa that "Developing new technologies and new products is a manufacturer's duty," team leader Mr. Tamura continued to motivate the team members. "Let's give it one more try," he would say. "I am convinced that we are going to develop a world-first belt." Even so, there were times when the sound test failed to produce favorable results that the team thought they might be permanently deadlocked on this problem. Around that time, a conference of global departmental heads from throughout the Mitsuboshi Belting Group met. The team was inspired anew by the words of President Kakiuchi that "Our company values people who go out and try new things, regardless of the results."
Finally, the team developed a compound that succeeded in reducing sound. It earned Mr. Hineno's implicit endorsement as an optimal compound, and the development moved into the final stages.