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Frank Ahrens: Why it's so hard for Toyota to find out what's wrong

03/07/2010

I won't lie to you: I was not a good engineering student. That's one of the reasons I went into journalism. But I managed to acquire a bachelor of sciences in mechanical engineering, and the recent Toyota hearings on Capitol Hill brought back a lot of memories. Specifically, memories about how engineers figure out why mechanical things fail.

It was made painfully clear at the hearings that a number of lawmakers do not understand the process. An exchange between Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Toyota President Akio Toyoda illustrated the problem.

Toyoda said that when his company gets a complaint about a mechanical problem, engineers set to work trying to duplicate the problem in their labs to find out what went wrong.

Norton said: "Your answer -- we'll wait to see if this is duplicated -- is very troublesome." Norton asked Toyoda why his company waited until a problem recurred to try to diagnose it, which is exactly what he was not saying.

Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/06/AR2010030602448.html?hpid=sec-business

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