Automation is not always the answer. Try kaikuri.

I recently posted a blog of my experiences of a Toyota plant tour.

A poster on the importance of Kaikuri claimed that “Automation is not always the answer” with a reminder to keep Kaikuri fresh and don’t let the practice get forgotten over time.

I couldn’t find reference to Kaikuri anywhere in lean manufacturing, and now believe it could be a portmanteau of two different words, kaizen and karakuri.

According to the Japanese Kōjien dictionary,

Karakuri (noun.)
Means of manipulating

Karakuri is often used as a synonym of Karakuri ningyō, a doll which achieves movement through the use of a wind-up clockwork mechanism.

In this 2011 video Hideki Matsuoka, Program Manager at Mazda Japan explains how the hidden mechanism of the clockwork Karakuri ningyō inspired the seating design at Mazda with hidden mechanisms unfolding an additional seat or storage.

Although Matsuoka also says the word ‘Karakuri’ simply cannot be translated into English, in the context of manufacturing, karakuri could refer to any use of mechanical devices to manipulate objects or create movement.

The use of simple machines and mechanisms such as inclined planes (slopes), levers, pulleys and pivots or see-saws have been a constant innovation. Magnets and springs often provide the energy to trigger movement.

This 2.5 minute 2012 promotional video for LeanProducts shows innovative solutions for manipulating boxes of materials.

In the video there is no motorized movement that could be considered automated or robotic. The efficient and effective manipulation of boxes is achieved through clever use of simple mechanics.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, Mark Jamrog told an interviewer that the answer lies in creatively developing low-cost “commonsense and practical mechanical and industrial engineering solutions. Then you strategically and tactically place automation, if it turns out to be necessary.” I’m impressed that it still holds true today.


So if the word kaizen refers to improvement, and karakuri refers to the means of manipulating objects, the word kaikuri could refer to the continuous improvement of the ways we manipulate objects.

I wonder if kaikuri can describe the continuous improvement of manipulating objects that we enjoy when watching Rube Goldberg machines? The example below certainly has that element of surprise or genius that Matsuoka associates with karakuri.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below!

OK Go – This Too Shall Pass – Rube Goldberg Machine – Official Video