Illustrator Hiroki Tsuboi visits Sumitomo Group
Meidensha Manabi-ya Skills Training Center

Underpinning social infrastructure and industries worldwide, Meidensha's electrical engineering technologies are hard at work in such diverse fields as power and energy, railway systems, and water treatment facilities. And the company also manufactures motors for electric vehicles. The Manabi-ya skills training center opened in October 2020.

  • Practice area Practice area

The practice area is divided into four sections: power receiving substations, power conversion facilities, speed control facilities, and water treatment plant facilities.

Manabi-ya is in Numazu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, overlooking Suruga Bay, the deepest bay in the Japanese archipelago. Turn your gaze inland for magnificent views of iconic Mt. Fuji, Japan's highest peak.

Meidensha's skills training center called Manabi-ya, meaning "school" in Japanese, opened in October 2020 in Numazu City. New employees destined for maintenance operations are trained here to become qualified service engineers. As you will see, Meidensha offers training that is strikingly different from conventional training based on classroom lectures and OJT.

Mr. Hidemasa Suzuki of the HR Training & Administration Section, HR & Career Development Office, Human Resources Planning Division, explains what Meidensha had in mind when establishing Manabi-ya.

"Classroom lectures alone cannot achieve practical learning and OJT varies in quality depending on the workplace. So as to ensure the efficient transfer of skills and swiftly develop service engineers capable of satisfying customer needs, we needed a training facility where trainees could systematically acquire skills and knowledge corresponding to needs in the field. That's why we opened Manabi-ya."

Manabi-ya is on the site of Numazu Works, Meidensha's principal factory for control equipment and electronic equipment.

First, I visited Manabi-ya Digital Zone on the second floor of the two-story building. This zone is dedicated to virtual training. By the window are a series of intriguing machines that look as if they came out of a futuristic gym. Divided into five areas, the Digital Zone is where virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) come into their own.

I had a go, starting with safety training. VR makes it possible for trainees to experience accidents that could happen in the field. This helps instill profound awareness of the importance of ensuring safety and heightened sensitivity to hazards. The safety-training program offers 14 types of content. For example, trainees can fall from an elevated position or tumble head over heels down a flight of stairs.

Virtual experience-based training area  Look out! You are in danger! Virtual experience-based training area  Look out! You are in danger!
VR at Manabi-ya Digital Zone offers a content-rich experience.

I select "fall." I put on a head-mounted display, stand on a plate that simulates movements in all directions, vibration, and jolts, and hold a controller with both hands. I am at a work site and about to ascend an unstable ladder while holding some gear. As I start to ascend, the ladder lurches to one side. It all happens in an instant. Since what I see and the movement of my body are synchronized, it's scary. The moment I hit the ground, I see blood splatter. So realistic!

Is this what I have to manipulate?  An accident has happened in the virtual world! Is this what I have to manipulate?  An accident has happened in the virtual world!
In the virtual touch area featuring MR, a head-mounted display shows various instrument panels inside a real cabinet. Trainees master the maintenance procedures while also learning about the risks involved.

Two areas feature AR. In the virtual asset area, trainees learn maintenance procedures without having to go to an actual site. AR conjures up a 3D model of large-scale equipment in actual size together with a display detailing operational procedures. In the real asset area, AR is superimposed on actual equipment so that trainees can get tips on how best to execute work procedures. Other areas feature MR and motion capture.

Trainees practice assembly and trial operation.
Trainees practice assembly and trial operation.
Training kicks off with a session in which trainees assemble switchgear by themselves and then proceeds to various practical programs, including trial operation and inspection.
On completing the year of training, trainees disassemble the switchgear they had assembled in readiness for the next cohort of trainees.
The practice area is a spacious room with a high ceiling.

Next, I proceed to the practice area on the first floor. After joining Meiden Group in April, new employees receive six months of group training centering on classroom lectures, but also including programs at Manabi-ya Digital Zone. Then, employees are assigned to maintenance departments for a further six months of training. Previously, after six months of classroom lectures, new employees were assigned to factories where they gained skills through OJT. "The scope of training covered by OJT is limited. Manabi-ya enables us to broaden and deepen the training experience to encompass practical assembly training, inspection, emergency response, and facility maintenance," says Mr. Shigeru Funashima of the HR Training & Administration Section.

In October 2020, Manabi-ya welcomed its first group of trainees, comprising 15 people. The team of six instructors consisted of three service engineers and three skilled factory workers. Take a look at the switchgear used in hands-on training and you can still see where a trainee sheared a bolt. In a way it's reassuring to know things don't always go to plan. Indeed, the sheared bolt attests to the fact that we learn by having a go and not getting it right first time. Mr. Funashima says: "I tell trainees not to worry if things get broken as long as they are giving the task their best shot. Of course, the instructors will stop the trainees if what they are doing could escalate to a hazardous situation, but we encourage trainees to take the initiative to learn through collaboration with their fellow trainees. As almost all the training is conducted one-to-one, trainees can thoroughly master skills. The great advantage of training at Manabi-ya is that trainees can repeat the procedures until they become second nature. We offer a training experience that cannot be replicated by using facilities at customers' sites.

Efficient and effective transfer of expertise is key to Meidensha's growth!  That's why you're emphasizing HR development! Efficient and effective transfer of expertise is key to Meidensha's growth!  That's why you're emphasizing HR development!

Learn from your mistakes. This is the fundamental policy. The instructors do not laboriously drill trainees in every detail of a given task. Rather, conceiving of skill acquisition as a collaborative endeavor, they guide trainees while encouraging them to learn from one another so that eventually they all acquire the targeted set of skills. "In the past, trainees learned by observing how those with more experience set about tasks in the workplace. Now, we offer content-rich training supervised by experienced instructors that motivates trainees. With our key objectives in mind, namely, ensuring the transfer of expertise to the next generation and expediting the training of service engineers, we believe we are on the right track," says Mr. Suzuki. Since Manabi-ya is still in its infancy, Meidensha continues to refine its approach to training through trial and error.

In the training field, the trend is toward ever-greater reliance on ICT as a means of enriching capabilities. But over and above anything that technology can offer, Meidensha believes effective training is rooted in fruitful human relationships. Manabi-ya showed me a novel approach to training that is truly inspiring.

Venue where everyone can learn, teach, and flourish

"Manabi-ya," the name of Meidensha's new skills training center, is written "学び舎" in kanji and the last kanji "舎" is the same as the last kanji of "明電舎," which is how the company name "Meidensha" is written in kanji characters. This highlights just how dear to the heart of Meidensha are training and education, and moreover, what high expectations the company has of Manabi-ya. The kanji "sha," meaning "venue," in the name Meidensha embodies the founder's desire to make the company a place where like-minded people dedicated to making the world richer through the power of electricity would converge. Manabi-ya is where young people who will lead Meidensha in the coming years gather. During a year spent together acquiring and practicing new skills in a spirit of friendly rivalry and fruitful collaboration, trainees will also cultivate a powerful sense of comradeship. Manabi-ya is a venue where everyone can learn, teach, and flourish.

Learn from your mistakes!

Oh no! I sheared the bolt!
What happened? Practice tightening nuts! Without shearing the bolt?
When I apply this much force, I shear the bolt…  Then, this much force is about right… Yes! Success!
It is by getting it wrong that they learn how to get it right.  Such enthusiasm!  The instructor looks like my old teacher…

Editor’s note

In the Safety Training Zone, VR is so true to life that I was scared.
I was plunged into a sequence of events that had all the immediacy of everyday reality. A forklift was overloaded. Miscommunication led to an electric shock. Fire broke out because someone skipped a mandatory check. Every accident was the culmination of a credible narrative, creating a truly immersive VR experience.
The goggle-style head-mounted display that I wore was linked to the plate on which I stood so that I experienced vertical movement, vibration, and shock in VR. Objectively, I knew it was VR but, subjectively, it put such fear into me that my heart was racing. Anyone undergoing these ultra-realistic simulations will recognize anew the vital importance of securing safety at construction sites.

The tension mounts as Mr. Tsuboi ascends the ladder in VR.

When working at a height, the correct safety procedures must be observed for everything,
including the use of smartphones. An accident is about to happen.

Number (Manga Reportage "Visits to Sumitomo Group")