Section 3. Kiichiro Toyoda Invents the Automatic Loom

Item 2. Creating the first automatic loom prototype

Sakichi Toyoda, as previously explained, established Toyoda Boshoku Sho in Shanghai and moved to the city in 1921. He directed Kiichiro Toyoda and other personnel to continue their research and development of automatic looms and frequently traveled between Shanghai and Japan to oversee their work.

After returning back from his tour of the United States and Europe in 1922, Kiichiro promptly began research and development of automatic looms together with Rizo Suzuki1 and Risaburo Oshima.2

At first, Kiichiro built the same automatic loom that Sakichi had developed and added a few modifications. By around the summer of 1923, Kiichiro had approximately 30 automatic looms up and running.

For its part, Toyoda Boshoku was constructing a new plant in Kariya-cho, not far from Nagoya, in order to cope with a future expansion in business. For the time being, the premises was designated to be used as an experimental automatic loom plant, and was essentially completed by the end of December 1923. Ahead of the commencement of trial operations, the company placed an order for 200 looms with Toyoda Loom Company, which the latter declined. This situation forced Kiichiro and the rest of his team to outsource production of parts to external suppliers. The various parts were then assembled into automatic looms at the Toyoda Boshoku workshop.

The new automatic loom was essentially the same as the existing regular loom (manufactured by Toyoda Loom Company), but was fitted with an automatic shuttle changing mechanism (made by the Toyoda Boshoku workshop). Trial operation was carried out at the Kariya plant from March to May 1924, and involved 200 looms. Trial operation of 20 looms resulted in two to three breakdowns a month, but with 200 looms, the number of breakdowns increased more than 10-fold, an unsustainable level for actual production. However, this large-scale trial allowed the research and development team to gain early insights into the failings of the new looms, which ultimately led to a faster development time.

The mechanical faults were quickly rectified, and in mid-May 1924 work began on a newly redesigned automatic loom prototype that incorporated an automatic shuttle changing mechanism. By the end of June, the wooden molds for the metal cast parts had been made, and in July the first prototype of the new automatic loom was completed. The prototype was then tested and modifications were made before the final machine was completed.

As mentioned previously, Sakichi had sold his original patent to Toyoda Loom Company in January 1913 for 80,000 yen. This meant that designs covered by that patent could not be used, which in turn meant that the new automatic loom had to incorporate new devices and mechanisms. New patents were filed for the shuttle-change automatic loom3, a warp let-off motion device4, and a warp tension adjuster5, under Kiichiro's name, and for a warp halting device6 under the names of Kiichiro and Akiji Nishikawa, in November and December 1924. Through the efforts of Kiichiro and those under his supervision who struggled with Sakichi, numerous automatic loom-related new devices were invented.

Later, in March 1925, in order to prevent human error, Kiichiro made a further improvement to the new automatic loom after he invented a Shuttle Magazine for Automatic Loom.7 This meant that when the shuttle needed to be reloaded, it couldn't be inserted into the magazine by the operator unless it was in exactly the right position. By preventing damage to the loom through human error, this device can be seen as one of the first examples of a failsafe mechanism.

In a little over 20 years since Sakichi first began his study into an automatic loom, the fruits of Kiichiro's efforts had made Sakichi's dream a reality.

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