Inside Toyota Motor Corp.'s oldest plant, there's a corner where humans have taken over from robots in thwacking glowing lumps of metal into crankshafts. This is Mitsuru Kawai's vision of the future.
"We need to become more solid and get back to basics, to sharpen our manual skills and further develop them," said Kawai, a half century-long company veteran tapped by President Akio Toyoda to promote craftsmanship at Toyota's plants. "When I was a novice, experienced masters used to be called gods, and they could make anything."
These gods, or "kami-sama" in Japanese, are making a comeback at Toyota, the company that long set the pace for manufacturing prowess in the auto industry and beyond. Toyota's next step forward is counterintuitive in an age of automation: Humans are taking the place of machines in plants across the nation so workers can develop new skills and figure out ways to improve production lines and the car-building process.