[STORY] Toshiba’s Young Engineers: Listening and Thinking Drives Innovation

Remote work has become the new normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people use the time freed up from travel to enrich their private life, while others use it to study, as an investment in their future. The engineer featured in this article said he used the time saved during the COVID-19 pandemic to achieve his long-held goal of getting a motorcycle license. While enjoying riding along the quiet coast, avoiding the crowds, he says that when he looks at the scenery of his destination, he thinks of the ideas sparked by the many conversations and new ideas he has picked up from the many engineers around him.

The pleasure of creating yourself

The Toshiba group manufactures products in many fields, exemplified by turbines for the production of electricity in the energy sector, railway equipment, lighting, semiconductors, hard disk drives (HDD). One of the Group’s characteristics is that it often controls the entire production process, from design to manufacturing. Yuki Kawamitsu of Toshiba Electronic Devices & Storage Corporation, which works on hard drive development, says he joined the company after finding Toshiba’s manufacturing system appealing.

Yuki Kawamitsu, PCB&LSI Engineering Group, Common Core Engineering Dept., Storage Products Design & Production Div., Toshiba Electronic Devices & Storage Corporation

“Toshiba is one of the only companies in Japan to do in-house computer-aided design (CAD) for printed circuit board (PCB) design for hard drives. For people like me, who love manufacturing, the possibility to do the design yourself is the ultimate joy.”

Many companies outsource the process, especially for reasons of cost reduction. However, the fact that each design and manufacturing process is carried out within the Group promotes knowledge exchange and synergies, which has led to many innovations at Toshiba. The knowledge accumulated within the Group now supports Toshiba’s technological capabilities and contributes to solving social problems.

Kawamitsu says there are many other benefits to working as an engineer at Toshiba besides being involved in the entire manufacturing process, from upstream to downstream. One is exchange within the Group.

“When the parts we use are made by Toshiba Group companies, we can speak directly with the engineers who made them and get more detailed information than when we introduce products from other companies. Since we are all Toshiba engineers, everyone is friendly and willing to talk. Much of this information contains tips for growing as an engineer that are hard to find on your own. I feel like my knowledge of components and technology development is deepening and my own circuit design skills are improving.”

Being given a task spurs growth as an engineer

Kawamitsu majored in electromagnetic compatibility in college. He studied the impact of electromagnetic waves emitted by industrial products on the environment and researched ways to reduce electromagnetic waves by improving PCB wiring and other means. About six months after joining the company, he was given his first major job; to solve the problem of electromagnetic wave noise in PCB. Although it was close to what he had studied in college, he said he was surprised that his supervisor told him: “I leave it up to you, so go ahead and do whatever you want while you study”, and the expectations and the openness that was implicit.

He says learning about engineers’ efforts through glimpses of past product designs is both fun and food for growth.

“We evaluate problem PCBs to identify problems and offer solutions, then incorporate them into the CAD design and re-evaluate completed PCBs.

“Although it was a very difficult job, I asked in the company for solutions to things that I did not understand. Thanks to this, I was able to know who is doing what work and what type of communication I should adopt Above all, I believe that I took my first steps as a professional engineer.”

This is a clear representation of Toshiba’s workmanship. Toshiba is not a hierarchical company, but rather a company of equals, relying on the expertise of each to create products. There is respect for the knowledge of others, whatever their age, and, at the same time, pride in their own know-how.It was through working in this environment that Kawamitsu was able to grow so fast.

How a mindset shift resulted in next-gen hard drives

The high-capacity hard drives for data centers that Kawamitsu’s group is working on are one of the most important devices in modern society, where information is the most valuable resource. Because the required performance is constantly increasing, this is also an area where development cannot slow down.

“The size formats are fixed. The key is knowing how much storage capacity can be achieved. Manufacturers around the world compete on this basis.”

In this development competition, the design of the PCBs that Kawamitsu designs plays an important role. The capacity of a hard drive is determined by how data is stored on a spinning disk and how many of these disks can be mounted in the enclosure. To achieve this, an internal structure that makes non-disk components smaller must be designed. However, it is still difficult to do so. Additionally, Kawamitsu was aiming for a 50% size reduction compared to previous generation products.

“Semiconductors and other components on PCBs are getting smaller every year, but it’s still not enough. So it’s important to design models that determine how efficiently components can be placed on the PCB.

“I’ve gotten stuck designing PCBs so many times. I have to deal with PCBs that many more experienced engineers put on the better technology a few years ago. I sometimes wonder what I could do about it. ‘to improve.”

But that’s where Kawamitsu, an eponymous “crafting enthusiast,” really came into its own. He wondered if it would be possible to shorten the wires connecting the parts even if it was not possible to make the components themselves smaller. Kawamitsu has set his sights on the field* which are placed in several areas on the PCB. Although the terrains had already been deliberately placed in different locations in order to efficiently install the necessary components, Kawamitsu boldly continued in this direction.

*Earth: location where the potential difference from the reference potential is 0 volts.

Kawamitsu says it’s important to believe that there is a solution to any problem and to keep trying, and that’s one of the most exciting parts of design.

“In order to overcome the issues I’m facing, I thought it would be necessary to take a different approach from the engineer who made it. I revised the design with the main purpose of combining ground wires that perform the same function into one. At that time, I was able to use the experience and insights that I had cultivated in the jobs I had been given so far, and I said to myself, “if I take this yarn, it will affect the other areas in this way”. ‘”

This produced the remarkable result of dramatically reducing the size of the PCB to 50% of that of the previous generation. Hard drives equipped with PCBs created by Kawamitsu paved the way for Toshiba’s new generation of hard drives with even greater capacity. What are Kawamitsu’s current thoughts after getting such a good result?

“At Toshiba, you can see the entire manufacturing process of a single product. The concepts, thoughts and feelings of the engineers who make the components that go into the products also come to us. While absorbing this knowledge, I feel compelled to study fields other than my own in order to fulfill their wishes. By doing so, I can meet colleagues with whom I can exchange ideas and deepen my knowledge, because the Toshiba Group encompasses a wide range of fields.

“I think this is the best foundation for my development as an engineer. At Toshiba, which is responsible for all aspects of product development from upstream to downstream, we can proudly say, ‘we have made this product”, rather than ‘we made this part of the product.'”

The latest product* features nine drives and 18TB of storage capacity with Flow Controlled Microwave-Assisted Magnetic Recording (FC-MAMR™) technology.

*As of February 2022

To note

・FC-MAMR™ is a trademark of Toshiba Electronic Devices & Storage Corporation.
・Other company names, product names, and service names mentioned herein may be trademarks of their respective companies.