Mitsubishi Electric’s ‘no problem’ overconfidence is itself a problem

It is absolutely fundamental that manufacturers guarantee the quality of their products. Widespread disregard of this basic requirement within Mitsubishi Electric Corp. is a serious matter. The manufacturer must carry out drastic, company-wide reform to correct such an attitude.

In June this year, Mitsubishi Electric was found to have committed fraudulent inspections of equipment for train cars manufactured at its Nagasaki Works factory. In May and July, it came to light that the Nagoya Works’ Kani plant in Gifu Prefecture had shipped electric control equipment that did not meet U.S. safety certification standards.

A panel of outside lawyers and other experts has released a report on these two incidents of quality control wrongdoing.

For more than 30 years, Nagasaki Works failed to conduct some of the testing for air conditioning equipment for railway cars that had been agreed upon with clients, while also falsifying data and committing other forms of misconduct.

While being aware that they did not follow the client contracts, all the workers involved told the expert panel that there was “no problem with the quality,” according to the report. These comments are problematic because they show not only overconfidence in the quality, but also their justification for such irregularities. Some workers did not even know what specifications their clients required for the equipment, the report said.

The Kani plant found that when the U.S. safety certification standards were revised in 2012, its resin materials failed to meet the standards for incombustibility, among others. However, the plant went ahead and applied for the certification based on falsified information, believing that it would be fine to improve these failures later.

These irregularities were meant to avoid delays in the plant’s work. Making it even worse, the workers obtained approval from the factory manager. They also covered up their wrongdoing in the internal inspections that Mitsubishi Electric conducted in the past.

All the irregularities were triggered by the fact that front-line workers made decisions on their own, both believing that they would be excusable as long as there was no problem with the quality and neglecting the procedures that assure product quality.

The report found it to be a problem that the company’s quality control departments did not function properly. The one at the Kani factory was under the control of the manufacturing department.

As a company involved in a wide variety of businesses, from equipment for the nation’s defense system to home electrical appliances, each division at Mitsubishi Electric has a high degree of independence. Therefore, there was a lack of communication between the company’s head office and its factories, and this was also a contributing factor, the report pointed out.

Mitsubishi Electric must conduct a drastic review of its management and organizational structure.

The report concluded that management was not aware of the irregularities at the two factories. Management bears an extremely heavy responsibility for failing to detect them, even though the company conducted internal inspections repeatedly.

Mitsubishi Electric announced that Chairman Masaki Sakuyama, who served as president from 2014 to 2018, has stepped down to take responsibility, following the July resignation of the president at the time. The manufacturer is urged to rebuild its management system as soon as possible.

With the recent report described as a “first report,” Mitsubishi Electric is scheduled to continue its company-wide investigations until about April next year. The manufacturer should keep in mind that it will take a long time to restore trust unless the company uncovers the whole picture behind the irregularities.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Oct. 2, 2021.