Development Room: the story of our manufacturing spirit

01 Multi-storied car park: the story of our manufacturing spirit

In 1992 TSS launched the RX-7 multi-storied mini car park. With a 4.5m frontage, the car park can accommodate 7 vehicles, using a ferris wheel platform. This product went on to win the encouragement award at the Tokyoto Hatsumei-ten (Tokyo Invention Exhibition) and became a reputable product. This is a story of how this product, the fruit of the pride of TSS technical experts, all began.

The story goes back about 20 years ago. The company president Tanaka was attending a pan-industry social event meeting and heard there was a company looking for joint partnership in developing a multi-storied car park. At the time Japan was enjoying the peak of its bubble economy. While the entire nation was intoxicated with the economic development, land price was steadily on the increase. Although there was a rapid increase of highly profitable commercial buildings and condominiums, parking facilities with low profitability went on the decrease, leading thus to illegal parking that became a problem for the Japanese society at the time.

"Hmm…multi-storied car park…"

Nowadays, the general concept of a multi-storied car park tends to be a large building accessed by vehicles that drive round and round before parking at available spaces on the many floors. However, the kind of car park that was in need back then required a small land space that would allow the storage of many cars. Such a facility would use a mechanism that holds vehicles and turn them around to park them within the small land space. The different technical area itself manifested sufficient possibility for the application of TSS’ technology, while the facility was promising with greater demands in the future forecasted.
Tanaka always thought the elation felt toward the process of making something was precisely what technical experts live for on a daily basis. His sense for dedicating to product creation responded to the new business opportunity.

"This business concept….let’s do it!" And so, in the name of joint development, TSS began its project of making multi-storied car parks.

What TSS was aiming to create was a quiet, compact multi-storied car park that would allow great storage. As this was a business area with future expansion in mind, Tanaka had wanted to create a large project team to handle this. Alas, TSS was only a small and medium-size company and unfortunately it was not possible to put many people into handling this new business. Consequently, 5 project team members were chosen which included Mukojima, Muroi, and Takei and the project took off with this small team.

Initially, they began working on a 1:10 scale model. But even at the modeling stage there were already various issues and the team members had to verify and solve them one by one. —Let’s change the angle of the parts slightly and reinforce the strength… We can’t change this layout here because doing so will disrupt the balance and fail to support the vehicles… Instead of that, change the layout there and make the entire building smaller…— And so the team talked to even university experts and conducted daily tests, dedicating themselves to the materials and shapes of the parts to be used. Because cars carry human lives and a car park that holds these cars must guarantee safety, even if it’s not the safety of the car itself. In order to reinforce the strength of the building it was inevitable that the parts used would need to be large as well. However, the larger the parts so would the size of the product itself. Strength and compact…where would one fine the best balance between the two contradicting aspects?

"How about placing this next to this?"
"Hmmm….then that would be in the way of the layout. How about making this here smaller?"
"But doing that the strength would…..This doesn’t seem to really work, does it...?"

As the members persistently continued to work for many days, often they would get stuck, finding no answers to their problems. It would be wrong to say that no one ever felt anxious about the future ahead in that condition. Even if they pretended nothing was wrong, they themselves knew that there was a small hole in their hearts now. —Is there really any profitability in this? Is our work really required?— Regardless of such anxieties, none of the members told anyone about their inner thoughts. Instead, they put their mind to work on the product.

Once the model verification was complete, it was time to assemble the prototype. And they, fittingly attired for working at a construction site wearing helmets and working boots, headed off to the tennis court located next to the First Factory in Asahi-machi, Toyama (there is now a new building where that tennis court once stood).
With the unsparing summer sun upon them, they set to work at a height of nearly 8 meters. The parts used were all big and different from those used prior to this prototype. Normally, the parts used in the machinery manufacturing at TSS come in sizes that can be held in one hand. This new business, however, require such large parts where one single screw was already the size of the palm and sheet metals measuring nearly 5 meters long. They found themselves working in a blazing hell, trying to overcome their fear of heights and being lost trying to work with parts they were not used to handling!

"Oh man…this is hot, hot, HOT..."
"I am not afraid of heights...NOT AFRAID!" (in a self reassuring way)
"Um...I just joined this company...this isn’t what I signed up for..."

Although all of them had no idea about many things, all they could think about was to quickly surpass existing manufacturers of car parks. They united their feelings and got to work. By the end of it, the initially disconnect individuals gradually became one unified team. Whether this was some kind of bonding, it was certain that a connection was born between them.

In 1992, the car park they had aimed to create was finally completed. It was one with a smart-looking shape that could store 7 vehicles each in a 1.6 vehicle space. The parking operation made no vibrations or noises. Seeing cars being moved and parked inside this product of their hard work was enough to move their hearts. We made this from nothing… Their hearts were filled with a sense of accomplishment.

After that, they received endorsements from major car manufacturers and sold two of these car parks. This is it! So they thought. But then tragedy struck. The bubble economy was collapsing.
The swarms of people who, until just a little prior to the collapse of the bubble, were buying up lands suddenly all disappeared. Prices greatly dropped and land prices plummeted all of a sudden, vacating in its wake many empty spaces in Tokyo. Despite TSS beating other manufacturers to come up with the multi-storied car park created with unique performance, demands for it greatly declined and cost-wise there was not enough budget, putting the company thus to consider business survival.

"....We have no choice but to stop."
"No....."
Tanaka gave his decision as a businessman and the team members had no choice but to follow his decision.

And so the business came to an end and the team dissolved. Whatever has become of the holes in their hearts? Only they themselves would know. However, they are walking their own paths, drawing from the interpersonal connection they learned from this experience.
(Except Tanaka, all characters in this story are pseudonyms. In consideration of related companies, parts of the story may differ from actual facts.)

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