Intensive human research to create a unique sensation
Technological development of the combination switch
The combination switch is an important interface that connects the car and the driver. We have been doing intensive human research at our combination switch development site to find a unique click sensation. It’s just a switch, but it’s that switch. And it’s our team’s dedication to development that creates new value.
Hints from how to develop shavers
The combination switch is said to be the part of the car the driver touches the most. Located near the handle, this switch is used to operate the turn signals, windscreen wipers, and AV equipment, as well as to adjust the temperature inside the car and operate other functions. The combination switch we developed has the ultimate touch sensation when the driver uses it. Installed in Mazda 3 and also the CX-30, Panasonic’s combination switch has won high appraisal in the market.
Panasonic produces a variety of switches that are essential components in cars. In addition to the factory division handling manufacturing, there is also the technical division for research and development of cutting-edge technologies, and the sales division that anticipates the needs of our global customers. By taking advantage of having development, manufacturing, and sales concentrated in one place with these three divisions in Tsuruga City, Fukui Prefecture, we are able to achieve speedy development and manufacturing that satisfies our customers.
It all began in 2014. That is when Mazda Motor Corporation shifted the conceptual focus of its next-generation vehicles to the sensations and fine feel for users. For switches as well, this also required a shift to development that emphasizes the touch sensation for users, rather the conventional values of functioning accurately and reliably.
What feels fine and comfortable to use? While the Panasonic development team was searching for answers, it came across a clue in how the Panasonic shavers were developed. The team analyzed the firm and comfortable grip of the shavers and visualized those sensations, and then applied these findings to enhance the textural quality of the switch.
Dismissing common knowledge, and commercializing by coordinating development, manufacturing, and sales
Mr. Kaburagi is an engineer of the combination switch. He recalls how the development this time was different: “The development of ESC58 Type was a new dimension of development. We were searching for the touch sensations that the driver’s fingers are unconsciously seeking.”
So he dismissed his common knowledge and practices as an engineer, worked with the analysis team to review all of the parameters, and then set up mechanisms to achieve that feeling the fingers want when operating the combination switch. He got a feel for where and how the force of the driver’s fingers is transmitted from the lever when touched, which helped him to work out things like what shape and materials to use for the parts; basically, he fundamentally renewed the design and development of the combination switch.
The next obstacle to overcome was the mass production needed to commercialize the designed switch. Even if the prototype was a success, the switch may not perform properly as a mass-produced item. This is when we leveraged the strength of having development, manufacturing, and sales in the same place. So the development and manufacturing divisions worked together closely, while the sales division provided customer feedback. We were able to align these three functions in the way that Japanese manufacturing excels at, and enhance the overall quality.
Employee in charge of vehicle development at Mazda Motor Corporation
Creating new value, and “wow”
The result of the earnest efforts to make improvements right up to the very end was the positive appraisal from the market on how good the combination switch feels when using it. That’s great to hear. We knew it would be well received in the market, but we’ve never had such a positive appraisal before; that makes me happy too. It really is a win-win. Please also tell this to all the team members involved in its development. And please tell them thank you, too. We hope to continue challenging ourselves to do things others haven’t done before (as “wow” can be created even for things as old as FS), create new value, and bring unique products to the market. Let’s work together to do this.
*Force to stroke (FS): the force exerted when operating a switch.
Mr. Kaburagi, Mechanical Device Business Unit, HMI Systems Business Division
Creating switches the world wants
Switches are essential for operating a car, but we don’t really notice they are there. Actually, I’m delighted that all our hard work has paid off and the product we put out in the world has been so well received by car manufacturers and their customers, and the media as well. For the first time, I really felt first hand how our continual and careful efforts are connected to a car’s appraisal. And thanks to that, we are receiving inquiries from other car manufacturers as well. Earning such recognition from the world is very rewarding and motivating as a designer. The industry is moving toward automated driving, so I also want to work on developing switches and interfaces needed in self-driving cars.