Chapter 1: A month-long battle with noise
With the new Private Viera, we improved usability by developing the product around the idea of getting further-reaching reception (compared to the previous year's model). Because customers choose portable AV products based largely on their appearance, the product was developed without altering the stylish design previously selected.
Akifumi Taniguchi handles the transmitting tuner unit, receiving monitor unit, and the Wi-Fi components that connect them. Wi-Fi is the lifeblood of and key to future development for Private Viera, which is built on the concept, "Anywhere in the home."
What troubled Taniguchi and the electrical design team with the development of this model was the noise produced by the device's interior. Noise filtering was necessary in order to display an uninterrupted high-resolution picture, even if the Wi-Fi signal was weak. They knew that enhancing the system's performance would create more noise, so Taniguchi and the team took various noise-reduction measures from the start of the project. Despite such efforts, the noise they were supposed to have eliminated emerged in all of the models, just before the project was turned over to the factory. The noise was particularly conspicuous in the flagship T5 Series.
After looking with the electrical design division for the cause, it was discovered that the metal plate that had been installed for cooling was the source of the noise. Taniguchi worked around the design-related limitations on the device's configuration to contain the noise, with countermeasures that included wrapping copper foil and affixing an electromagnetic wave absorption sheet. He additionally proposed modifications to parts of the cooling plate shape to thoroughly reduce the noise. This proposal at such an unconventionally late stage was met with strong criticism from the factory and related team members, who had already placed orders for die tooling. The move would add more hours to the workload and, from the design perspective, would mean a review of chassis balancing and heat dissipation measures. This pained Taniguchi himself, but after several meetings, the manufacturing and other related divisions relented. Ultimately, the clinching factor was the goal of bringing a product to market that would satisfy customers. That was one thing that everyone could agree on. With this resolve, Taniguchi and the engineering team achieved the optimal modifications in shape without affecting performance.
Chapter 2: Refusing to allow even the slightest variation
After almost a month was spent to resolve the noise issue, the pre-mass-production stage began. However, Taniguchi discovered a slight variance in performance from about one in five of the products. The phenomenon resulted in the signal breaking up three footsteps before the other models; a difference that would not even be considered a defect, given that the target reach had already been met. However, Taniguchi calmly tackled the issue, despite mounting pressure, as the sales division began requesting product samples. After analyzing the transmission he hypothesized that there was a problem with the switching software. With the help of the relevant team he took the lead in fixing the issue.
Taniguchi explains why he doggedly pursued the variation problem, saying, "I wanted every customer who gets this product to feel the satisfaction of enhanced connection. These efforts also come into play during future expansion. This is why I couldn't just ignore the issue. We must do everything we can to solve problems in the early stages of the manufacturing process."
We want customers to be able to carry the unit to anywhere in the house and watch without signal interruption. To this end, we must be constantly improving the Wi-Fi function to ensure that it performs at 100%, and building our technical knowledge of noise-reduction.
Kazuhiko Miura, Akifumi Taniguchi's boss
In new product development, there are times when the pressure can exhaust one's physical and mental capabilities. But settling and declaring it "good enough" prevents us from satisfying customers and expanding our own abilities. Taniguchi refused to settle and persevered until the end. The confidence and experience he gained on this project will surely lead to the next improvement.
Chapter 3: Bringing a materials manufacturer onboard with zeal
Waterproofing offers customers peace of mind. The superior performance of this feature is one of Private Viera's merits. Kazutaka Goto, who handled development, greatly improved the waterproof characteristics for this model by using a new gel-like sealing material to be used instead of conventional rubber sealing.
We spent almost two years looking at options to find the right materials. It took a year of repeatedly conducting tests until we found something we felt we could use. With mass production due to start the following Spring, we finally came across the right material in November 2014.
Goto approached a materials manufacturer and explained the level of waterproofing being sought for Private Viera. He back-calculated from the mass production date and wrote out a schedule on a whiteboard. He implored, "We would like to achieve this using your materials. If you can give us the necessary samples today, we can conduct a reliability test right away and make a decision!" Representatives from the materials manufacturer shared Goto's enthusiasm and immediately produced a sample.
Yukiharu Wakiguchi, Kazutaka Goto's boss
At one overseas plant I heard that they implement "Goto Shifts" to allow more time for adjustments. Goto tests ideas himself and then uses those results to tenaciously advance the project. That is why he is able to gain the cooperation of others around him.
Chapter 4: Dispelling doubts at team-wide meetings
It usually takes one year to introduce a new material and to perfect new assembly methods. However, instead of just waiting to use the new material in the next model, Goto adamantly insisted to his superior that it be incorporated right away. He reaffirmed, "The material not only enhances the waterproofing function but is cost-effective and has the potential to make the device thinner. It is definitely worth trying. I believe we should look to the future and incorporate it now."
The manufacturing side was still worried about being able to produce products free of defects, as they would be mass producing in a shorter timespan than usual, while also incorporating new assembly methods. Goto decided to hold a teleconference, gathering all team members from the engineering division and the materials manufacturer, together with the team at the production plant. He told everyone, "Incorporating new materials now will lead to the next development. There is some risk, but we can definitely overcome this. Let's challenge ourselves." The members present aired their doubts on the spot, and everyone worked to think of ways to resolve these concerns. This meeting was the watershed that enhanced everyone's focus on the project. The president of the materials manufacturer also contributed, encouraging employees by saying, "We must do everything we can to work together until we succeed."
"Work together until we succeed!"
The president of the materials manufacturer echoed the Management Philosophy of founder Konosuke Matsushita and appealed to the whole company for cooperation. Subsequently, at the start of trial production, the company came to the development site in Osaka repeatedly to fine-tune ideas, and even oversaw the launch of mass production at the production base. Untold, heartwarming stories such as these, featuring our partner companies, were behind the introduction of the new assembly methods.
Thanks to total cooperation in-company and with outside parties, we reached the pilot stage of the production process. This is the final stage, in which the engineers check the product. The engineering team built each model carefully by hand, knowing that once production was handed off to the plant, they would not be able to come to the rescue at a moment's notice. It was because the engineering division worked carefully up until the very last stages that mass production began without problems at the plant. Additionally, production using the new material and assembly methods, which were integrated in a short period thanks to the cooperation of all involved, greatly improved takt time for the waterproofing process, raising the production yield as well.
"Combined efforts allowed us to produce a product that satisfies the customer"
Passionate production site leader
Ying Dong Fang
Introducing new assembly methods in such a short timeframe was difficult. We had to verify physical properties and look into purchasing equipment, and even struggled in designing application tools. But what impressed me the most was that in spite of all this, the engineering division and the production division were able to collaborate and produce a product that meets customer expectations. The end result has an attractive high-end appearance, easy operation, and superior waterproofing. It represents an evolution in convenience that can be used while cooking, in the shower, and anywhere else throughout the house. I have confidence that it will be a hit.
Chapter 5: Connected by the desire to satisfy customers
Private Viera was already peerless in its home Wi-Fi connectivity* and waterproof performance for a 15-inch screen, but the product development team refused to settle, taking risks in order to advance the product in any way possible. The problem-solving know-how we've gained will certainly lead to the next stage in the product's evolution and also contribute in the development of other products. This spirit is embedded in the culture of the business division, which shares its know-how freely. At the root of this lies the desire to satisfy customers, which is above all else. The pair say they "believe that all of the people involved with our products feel this way. This is why we refused to settle for less in terms of the functionality, design, and other goals from the customer's perspective. It is because we all share this spirit of refusing to settle for less that we are able to overcome hurdles."
*Depending on the structure of the building and the surrounding environment, the signal may not necessarily reach all parts of the house.
Presently, one of the biggest hurdles for Private Viera is creating more value in the product itself. Taniguchi explains, "The biggest challenge lies in broadening its uses. From a technical perspective, we must introduce new standards and develop base technologies that will expand its uses. This is because we want to make this product a pillar of our business division." Goto emphasizes, "I want for the product to achieve waterproofing levels that will allow for any kind of use. My goal is to achieve complete waterproofing levels, so that instruction manuals won't need to include any fine print."
Expansion into B2B is also underway, delivering the Private Viera to residential construction companies for use as a multipurpose control terminal. The appeal of the product, which embodies the passion of the engineers, continues to expand.