Polishing Skills, Polishing People. AISIN Wins Gold Medal at World Skills Competition
-Challenge to the Skill Competition for the Future-
Skill Competition is a technical and exciting competition in which young technicians under the age of 23 compete in a skill for which they have trained. There are approximately 40 categories of competition, including mechatronics, machine assembly, and mobile robotics, and AISIN participated in seven different categories. Winners of the regional qualifying rounds compete in the national competition, and the winners of the national competition represent Japan at the WorldSkills Competition held every other year, where individuals and teams compete against each other to become the world’s best.
The spirit of competition with high speed and high precision - to the millimeter and nanosecond
Why is AISIN focusing its efforts on the Skill Competition? Akira Goto, who coaches the Skill Competition team, says, “AISIN’s strength lies in its manufacturing capabilities. And human resource development is important for delivering quality products.”
In an environment where there is a clear goal of winning a medal, the objective is to foster a manufacturing mindset that allows for steady effort and continuous improvement in the pursuit of one-second time savings and one-millimeter accuracy. This precision and efficiency can then be passed along as part of AISIN’s DNA. As the automotive industry continues to evolve through a period of major change including the electrification of cars and a push toward carbon neutrality, there is also an urgent need to develop human resources with outstanding skills that can respond to next-generation technologies.
The Skill Competition contestants who made a splash, thanking their families and friends for their support
Rei Sodeyama (left) and Ryu Segi won a gold medal at WorldSkills Competition 2022 (Special Edition).
Long ago, Japan was known as a manufacturing powerhouse. With the rise of China and other countries in the WorldSkills competition, there are fears that other countries will begin to reign over the contest as well as the market. Despite this, AISIN members Ryu Segi and Rei Sodeyama became the first AISIN team to win a gold medal in the mechatronics category at the 46th WorldSkills Competition (Special Edition) held in Stuttgart, Germany, in October, 2022. In the mechatronics category, teams of two compete over a four-day period to design, assemble, and program automated production equipment, competing on accuracy and time.
Segi: “All of the challenges were within my expectations. I intuitively thought that the level of difficulty would be low and that it would be a race against time. We were able to work smoothly from the first day of competition, and by the end of the third day, the competition for the gold medal had narrowed down to three or four countries. Even on the final day, when many spectators were watching us, we were able to work steadily and win the gold medal.”
Sodeyama: “I was nervous about the unique atmosphere of the international competition. The team’s roles were divided, with Segi doing the programming and me assembling the equipment. We were able to achieve the best results thanks to Segi, who always gave me precise instructions, Tsutomu Kuzuya an Expert,*1 and support from the company.”
*1 A professional who participates in international competitions with competitors. In addition to coaching competitors, they also prepare, evaluate, and grade competition tasks for other countries.
Expert Tsutomu Kuzuya (left); Segi/Sodeyama (center)
The two were full of joy at the awards ceremony, but the road to success was not an easy one. Due to the pandemic, the WorldSkills Competition, which was scheduled to be held in Shanghai, China, was cancelled. The event was to be held in 15 countries around the world with each country hosting a special competition for each type of work. Although it was decided that the event would be held in Germany, the coronavirus disaster made it impossible to participate in joint training and competitions overseas. Although organizers provided maximum support by holding online competitions with overseas teams, “athletes must have been anxious and bitter because they could not gain any real experience,” said Goto.
The competitors’ families in Japan were the first to share news of the gold medal victory, especially after watching them overcome such adversity.
Segi: “The results were announced in the evening local time, around three o’clock in the morning in Japan, but my mother was awake and congratulated me over the phone. As the international competition approached, I was under a lot of pressure and could not sleep for days, and there were times when I fell ill, but I can only thank my parents for their constant support and encouragement. I am also grateful that the company created an environment where I could concentrate solely on training for about two years after I was selected as a competitor.”
Sodeyama: “When I called my mother, she was thrilled and said, ‘I think I’m about to cry on your behalf.’ I almost fell apart twice before reaching this point. The first time was about a year after I became a competitor. I cried tears of frustration, feeling sorry for myself for not being able to easily follow instructions. The second time was when the Shanghai competition was canceled. I had lost my goal and was about to lose heart, but thanks to the company’s prompt receipt of information about the Germany event, I was able to regain my resolve in a short period of time. I also felt blessed that the company was able to immediately provide me with overseas equipment and other resources for the international competition, which were difficult to obtain domestically.”
Conveying the joy of manufacturing and the value of taking on challenges to make AISIN a medal-winning company in the Skill Competition
Both Segi and Sodeyama will graduate from the Skill Competition program and begin their new careers in January of next year. Segi will become an instructor who will pass on his outstanding knowledge and skills to the next Skill Competition contestants and nurture them, while Sodeyama has been assigned to the production engineering department, where he can utilize his mechatronics skills. The knowledge, skills, and experience gained through the Skill Competition will be passed on from person-to-person and will permeate the workplace.
Segi: “Working on the Skill Competition and participating in the international competition was a valuable experience in my life. During training, I was often left to my own initiative, and I believe that this allowed me to think for myself and acquire the skills and ability to respond to various situations. So rather than teaching, I would like to become a leader who can grow together with the competitors. My dream is to make AISIN a regular gold medal winner in the mechatronics category at the WorldSkills Competition. The coaching know-how I have accumulated in the process can and should be applied to other occupations. I want to become a leader who is known as ‘the best at AISIN,’ and contribute to improving the skills of the entire company.”
Sodeyama: “I am glad that I took on the challenge of competing in the Skill Competition. I talked with competitors from other countries not only about mechatronics, but also about life, culture, family, and many other things. I originally joined AISIN, a global company, because I dreamed of working overseas, but my desire was further strengthened by my experience at the international competition. I experienced the elation of competing on the world stage and the sense of fulfillment from achieving my goals through hard work and improvement. I am grateful to have witnessed my own personal growth.”
Team AISIN’s challenge for the Skill Competition and the evolution of human resources skilled in manufacturing
Segi and Sodeyama became stars after winning gold medals at the WorldSkills Competition. In addition to these two competitors, young technicians who will lead the next generation of craftsmanship are engaged in friendly competition every day at Aisin Academy, an AISIN in-house training school that produces Skill Competition contestants. Nineteen AISIN employees participated in the National WorldSkills Competition held in Chiba Prefecture in November, competing in seven different categories.
One of them is Riku Yamauchi, who won the Fighting Spirit Award in the mobile robot category. In this category, teams of two compete to see how fast and accurately they can carry items by actually moving a robot. Yamauchi was paired with Toma Wakasugi.
“I had a hard time with the new language, which I tried to perfect to a higher degree, and I was so glad when the robot worked the way I wanted it to. I had been a conservative person, but the most rewarding thing for me was that I was able to try something new and change,” Yamauchi recalls with a smile.
The atmosphere in the workplace was homey and cheerful. “Whenever I made a mistake, the coaches and people from other departments worked with me to find the cause and come up with ideas to solve the problem,” said Yamauchi, who is grateful for the support. “What you learn in the Skill Competition is not only knowledge and skills. I also want to pass on the value of strategic planning and the ability to set things up in order to achieve goals,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes.
Some may ask if the content of the categories in the Skill Competition is immediately useful in the workplace, or if there is enough return on investment for the time and cost that companies invest to train competitors. So what is the significance of participating in the WorldSkills Competition? The answer lies in the future of AISIN’s manufacturing. It is the outstanding skills and passion of young technicians that will accelerate technological innovation and drive Japan’s manufacturing, which boasts world-class technological and shop-floor capabilities.