Genchi Genbutsu (“Go and see”)

Genchi Genbutsu is a Japanese phrase that can be roughly translated as “go and see”. The phrase is credited to the creator of the Toyota Production System, Taiichi Ohno. Mr Ohno was known for asking engineering graduates to stand inside a circle drawn with chalk on the production floor. The graduates would be instructed to observe what they see around them and take notes. After some time, Mr Ohno would return to enquire about their observations. If their observations were deemed insufficient, they would be asked to remain inside the circle and continue with their observations.


Although this strategy was applied to production processes with the focus on the creation of value and learning first-hand from “the place where it happens”, it is equally applicable in design. A design problem can only truly be understood if there is sufficient context and appreciation for design objectives and constraints. Statistics, calculations, and reports do not always tell the full story. Therefore, experience must ideally be obtained through personal and physical observation.


Students in the Machine Design B344 module in the Mechanical Engineering course have been tasked with designing a reduction gearbox for an electric vehicle conversion. The vehicle will be used for game-viewing in nature reserves and offer passengers an immersive experience without the noise associated with a traditional internal combustion engine. The conversion requires the replacement of the engine on a commercial 4×4 vehicle, with an electric motor. The manual transmission will furthermore be replaced by the newly designed gearbox to ensure optimal performance.


The welcomed return to in-person contact sessions after the pandemic offered students the opportunity to physically “go and see” for themselves. During scheduled timeslots, design teams could view demonstration 4×4 vehicles, vehicle transmissions and electric geared drives in the Structures Laboratory. The vehicles were kindly lent to the Department by staff members for this occasion. The accompanying photos show students inspecting the demonstration vehicles from all sides. Lecturing staff and learning assistants had their hands full to answer all the questions from students. It was inspiring to witness active interest and engagement by all. Thank you to the staff and postgraduate students that worked together to make this happen.


Perhaps we can all learn from Mr Ohno and hone our powers of observation to closely examine the world around us and “take notes”. Surely then we would be in a better position to solve new engineering challenges. Students are also encouraged to learn through experience in the safety of the University environment. Provided that the due engineering judgement has been applied, don’t be afraid to experiment and explore. Make the most of the wonderful opportunities and facilities accessible to you. The only way to know, is to try!


Author: Johann Bredell

Photos: Josua van Tonder

Reference: Genchi Genbutsu – Wikipedia