Cruz Control

One team member’s mission to influence innovation at PEMC and beyond

July 10, 2018
Meet Carlo -- Carlo Cruz, senior engineer in digital engineering, planning and development, inside the TILT Lab at the Production and Engineering Manufacturing Center (PEMC). 

Like most engineers, Carlo Cruz has a deep appreciation for science, technology and solving problems.

Talk to him, and you’ll hear his effusive passion for boundary-pushing and innovation. Ask him what he does, and he’ll speak fluently about robotics, virtual reality and using emerging tech to build better cars.

But it was something else entirely that landed him at Toyota in the first place.

“It was a little bit of serendipity,” says Cruz, a senior engineer in digital engineering, planning and development at the Production and Engineering Manufacturing Center (PEMC). “I had just gotten really into photography. I went to a conference for the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, and started talking to another guy about his camera. It turned out he worked for Toyota. He invited me to stop by his booth, and I did. I didn’t think it would turn into a job offer, but we chatted for a while and he eventually offered me a position in paint engineering.”

Cruz, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and an MBA from the University of Cincinnati, accepted. He spent nearly three years working as a paint specialist in the equipment planning group.

“Like most young engineers, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do long term,” Cruz says. “Paint was cool, but I started looking around for ways to get involved in other teams. I started networking with other folks, and volunteered with a group that was looking at innovation within the organization.”

The Next Step

That group, SOTA Kai (sota = state-of-the-art, kai = the Japanese word for counter) brainstormed on big picture questions – like the future of technology at Toyota – and how to answer them. It was exactly the kind of problem-solving and philosophical challenges Cruz craved, and also helped bring new career opportunities within Toyota into focus: Cruz was offered a position on the digital engineering, planning and development team, where he has worked as a senior engineer since 2014.

“It was a random event of trying to network with folks in our department division,” Cruz says. “And I ended up in a completely different team, because people saw value in trying to spin up smaller projects and new technology ideas.”

The term “smaller projects” is pretty relative for Cruz. He just wrapped up planning the second-ever Production Engineering Expo, an innovation-style event that brought together 1,500 engineers for two days to develop new skills, experience new technology, and learn from thought leaders across different industries.

“We wanted to motivate team members to think differently,” Cruz says. “We themed it ‘Beyond Engineering,’ to show team members that they can go beyond their everyday tasks and start their impossible.”

Lean on Me – Cruz, pictured with Sawyer, a collaborative robot, inside the TILT Lab.

Thinking Differently

Cruz talks a lot about thinking differently. It motivated him, along with a team of fellow PEMC engineers, to develop the TILT Lab, a makerspace and prototype shop called “the creative nucleus” of the Georgetown, Kentucky campus, and designed to shift or “tilt” the way team members think. Imagine about 5,000 square feet of collaborative workspace, chock full of state-of-the-art welding, plastics, paint, powertrain, virtual reality and digital collaboration technologies.

“It’s designed to teach our engineers how to build things on their own and create a variety of skill sets they don’t have,” Cruz says. “People don’t normally have access to a water jet, a laser cutter or 3D scanning equipment. These aren’t tools you usually have at your ready in an office. So whether you want to accomplish a task for work, like cutting production or lead time, or you just want to understand how to do something differently, you can come to this space. You can fail fast, fail cheaply, and then learn from it.”

The TILT Lab is in a “soft open” now, and is expected to open to all Toyota team members later this year. Cruz is hopeful that team members across the company will visit, learn and share their knowledge.

“I think the one thing that’s thematic in my life and my career – and what really resonates with the TILT Lab – is this idea of continuous improvement. The lab is all about continuous lifelong learning. The fact we have a lab to promote that is so motivational to me. I hope new team members and older team members alike see the value in that, and embrace the idea that we are truly our own best teachers.”

By Kristen Orsborn

Photos by George Hakim

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