An industry first, gas engine and electric motor equipped climate control system. Coupled with remote monitoring functionality, the ratio of gas to electricity can be optimized to user specifications based on energy supply and price fluctuations to deliver enhanced energy efficiency and cost reductions. Contained within the one unit, the system takes up less space and is easier to install.
We talked with Norihiro, Seiji and Kimito to find out how they joined forces in development, production and sales to realize full scale production of the hybrid climate control system.
Accelerated Development due to Gas Liberalization
By early 2016, after market research and product planning they had their concept. The team wanted to condense the standard 2-3 year product development lead-time into about a year. "The liberalization of electricity suppliers in Japan in 2016 oversaw big changes to the energy situation. In April 2017 the gas industry in Japan was also to be liberalized, so we wanted to release our product to coincide with the liberalization," explained Norihiro on the topic of the short lead-time. Development began immediately after finalizing the product concept. This time it took us 4-6 months to evaluate the electric motor. Time was needed to rectify issues as the gas engine and electric motor were housed together. The difficult part was controlling and optimizing gas and electricity usage. With so many unknowns, the sections in charge of mechanics, soft attributes, controls and remote monitoring had to collaborate more than ever before. Through collaboration, measures were decided upon such as making up for hard attribute limitations with enhanced control functionality. The first stage of development was finished and in July the 1st prototype was completed. However, there were still many hurdles ahead. "After building the prototype we kept refining areas to improve quality and performance. These refinements were evaluated in the next prototype; however at times the evaluations were insufficient or new issues arose. We conducted trials over and over, each time making further improvements," said Seiji. The control and remote monitoring team, who normally don’t physically see the machine, made frequent trips to the testing center to help make improvements throughout the winter. In the end, they had built 10 prototypes in only 6 months. "Standard is 2-3 prototypes, so this was really out of the ordinary. We did it tough, yet this resulted in very thorough testing which really enhanced the precision of the product," said Norihiro.
Increased Man-hours Drive Assembly Line Innovations
The shift to full scale production came with many new challenges. The biggest was assembly efficiency. Equipping an electrical motor meant more man-hours and more parts in the assembly process. To account for the added man-hours and ensure smooth assembly, the team had to devise ways to simplify processes. During development they focused on utilizing parts already used in other products in order to lessen the workload of the assembly technicians. 80% of parts in the new system are the same as parts used in other products. "It was impossible to complete the assembly on the one line so the inverter box was assembled on a separate assembly bench and supplied to the main line," said Seiji. The wiring and other details couldn’t be checked after the inverter box had been assembled, so the workers in production established their own system for quality assurance; using a checklist and inspecting the product. "Ensuring quality and line speed meant that quality control and manufacturing had to work closely together" said Seiji. After building 10 prototype models the team was confident that the product was ready for release. Full scale production commenced in June. Seiji estimates that in 3 years they will be delivering 500 systems annually. "While there is still some confusion at the factory, as we will make more units, it's important to get quality control down pat from the get go." said Seiji.
A Shared Passion is the Key to Successful Collaboration
In a limited time, the team managed to bring the industry’s first hybrid climate control system of its kind onto the market. When asked about the key factor leading to the project’s success, Kimito said, "The excitement and anticipation that comes with innovating something of value led to our success." According to him, the people in sales had also been active in helping with installing the monitors. "In development, devising ideas ourselves and having to act on many fronts is a strong motivator. Everyone seemed pleased with what we created," noted Norihiro. "With so many involved, others picked up on certain issues that would have gone unnoticed," said Seiji. "Such collaborations dissolved the divisions between the various departments, which provided a new perspective on things," he said on the topic of future hopes. "The fact that we can advertise with confidence that we are selling an outstanding product is a big factor when it comes to winning," said Kimito. "The liberalization of energy opened up new opportunities for us to connect with new customers. We are aiming for further sales expansions of products including our GHPs."
Development Division Yanmar Energy System
【Profile】After joining Yanmar in 2005, Norihiro worked on designing GHPs. While starting out in structural design, he is now involved in the entire development process. Norihiro was responsible for overseeing the entire design process of the hybrid climate control system
Subsection Manager, Quality Control Division Yanmar Energy System MFG
【Profile】Joined Yanmar in 2003. Looked after quality control for existing and new GHP models. For this project, he dealt with solving issues in the trialing phases and established a quality control system.
Sales and Marketing Division Yanmar Energy System
【Profile】Joined Yanmar in 2015. Kimito works in sales planning and provides support to sales outlets. For this project, he devised and updated the sales strategy and gave product presentations to sales outlets.