Printer Friendly

Empathy, detail keys to industrial might.

Attention to detail. Empathy. These two factors, perhaps more than anything else, can be seen as the keys to Japan's success as a world industrial power.

That's what the Tooling & Production Study Team found in traveling to the land of the rising sun this November to visit several industrial facilities, business associations, and the Japan International Machine Tool Fair (JIMTOF) in Tokyo.

Members of the team were Walter Berkmann, owner, Norwalk Machine Works, Shelton, CT; Sherwood Bollier, president, Niagara Cutter Inc, North Tonawanda, NY; Dennis Hattan, manager-tooling services, S&C Electric Co, Chicago; David LaForge, senior engineer, Hercules Machine Tool & Die Co, Warren, MI; Robert Manger, Robert Manger & Assoc, Derby, CT; William Misaki, Apollo Dental Products, Clovis, CA; and John Logan, CEO, and Robert Douglas, executive vice president, Advanced Assembly Automation Inc, Dayton, OH.

The study mission was organized and led by Stanley Modic, publisher/editor, T&P, and Joji Arai, director, International Productivity Service, Washington, DC. Mr Arai was formerly director of the Washington office of the Japan Productivity Center headquartered in Tokyo.

The study team, the latest of such Stan Modic-led ventures dating back to 1972, was designed to give T&P readers who chose to participate an opportunity to visit Japanese industrial facilities and meet with managers and executives there. It's one way to give US executives and managers a better fix on what they face in the way of competition and new markets as we move toward economic and industrial globalization, so important to US manufacturing.

The secret to Japan's success turned out to be no secret at all. "There wasn't anything at the show or in the factories that I haven't seen before to one degree or another," claims team member Walter Berkmann. "A lot of what we saw were American techniques that the Japanese have been smart enough to apply to their businesses. They have done their homework.

"Somewhere along the way, we in the US have lost our ability as well as the incentive to cross the "T's" and dot the "I's", something the Japanese seem to do very well--attending to detail and taking care of all the little things that need to be done to operate effectively," Mr Berkmann says.

Niagara Cutter's Bollier agrees: "The secrets they have are not secrets at all, but rather universal principles. What we see here in Japan is knowledgeable managers; group efforts; good engineering, product, and manufacturing technologies; and standardization. They have focused plans, and they work those plans well."

Along those same lines, Dennis Hattan of S&C Electric concurs that the Japanese plants visited have a strong commitment to sound manufacturing techniques, including continuous flow and just-in-time processes.

"In the US, we are caught up in how-to programs, and we jump from one fad to another-year after year," adds Bill Misaki. "Here, basic philosophy, rather than fads, pulls the entire effort together."

That philosophy is rooted in three guiding principles upon which all productivity improvement concepts are based, explained Jinnosuke Miyai, president of the Japan Productivity Center in Tokyo, during one of the study team's stops. The principles include commitment to the increase of employment, to labor-management consultation and cooperation, and to fair distribution of all gains among labor, management, and consumers.

"Please note," Mr Miyai told the team, "there is no reference made to rationalization, the rash approach which is so often detrimental to long-term productivity gains."

Beyond that, Bob Manger observes, there is a commitment to keeping the lines of communication open between the management and shop floor workers.

"The key to productivity is motivating the employees," says Mr LaForge. "It's obvious Japanese management works hard at involving the workers in the day-to-day practices, which permits them to feel that they are truly a part of the company."

Advanced Assembly's John Logan credits the Japanese with strategizing productivity and making labor an equal partner in that process. "That characteristic epitomizes a national resolve to be a world supplier. The only way you can take a national posture is through a cooperative effort between labor and management. The US adversarial relationship has, and will continue, to inhibit our position in the world market," Mr Logan claims.

His associate Bob Douglas, concurs and feels American business people should be taking a closer look at what is happening in Japan, if for no other reason than to determine their strengths and weaknesses.

Mr Douglas, on his third trip to Japan, was not impressed with the technology he saw, but was impressed with the emphasis on automation, which allows equipment to run unattended on the second and third shifts.

Plant size did not seem to dictate the amount of interest in automation. A small, 15-man metalforming/welding shop, Kawakami Seisakusho Ltd, featured a German NC roll-forming machine and an Amada Apelio combination laser/punching machine complete with automated storage-loading cell. At the other extreme was a visit to the newly-opened Tsukuba Plant of Mitsubishi Materials Corp, with 700 employees producing cutting inserts and tools with complete numerical control, robots, and fully automated pressing, grinding, and machining lines, automated guided vehicles for material transport, and automatic raw material and finished goods storage retrieval.

Other plants visited:

* Tobe Seiko Co Ltd, a small job shop serving the medical and aerospace industries processing complex plastic parts. It featured several Kitamura Machining Centers, including the Mycenter H-300 Supercell flexible manufacturing system with an automated pallet transfer and work recognition system allowing up to 48 hours of unmanned operation.

* Hikoyama Seiki Co Ltd, a 60-man shop producing precision coater rollers for the paper, film, magnetic tape, and plastic sheet industries. This shop featured several NC grinding and turning machines including some cells supplied by Mazak.

* Hitachi Seiki Co Ltd, a machine tool manufacturer with 1400 employees, which used many of its own machines in three flexible manufacturing cells to produce more than 700 different kinds of parts.

* Fuji Engineering Co Ltd, designers and builders of sophisticated industrial equipment and systems for the automotive, electrical, chemical, and metal industries.

* Subaru auto manufacturing and assembly facility of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd in Ota, a Tokyo suburb. It was indicated that adoption of automation in Japan, even during a recessionary period, is being prompted by predictions of a labor shortage the nation faces as it heads into the next century.

Mr Arai points out that the problem centers on Japan's aging population. The number of people over 60 will double in only 25 years--a faster rate than any other country--and continue to get worse until 2008. Studies show the workforce will decline by 2.1 million people between 2000 and 2010. The country, he says, is pursuing a three pronged-solution: loosen immigration laws; include more women in the workforce; automate.

"Japan has been a closed society," Mr Arai explains. "It has trouble coping with foreign labor. It knows it has to change but is having trouble making that adjustment." Officials at Subaru say they are using Brazilians with a Japanese heritage to fill jobs on their assembly lines.

The same societal adjustment has to be made in inviting more women into the workforce. "The laws have been changed, but it will take time for this male-dominated society to adjust to the changes," Mr Arai says.

As a result, the Japanese seem to be turning to the most palatable alternative: automation.

A fourth option, Mr Arai points out, is unacceptable to the Japanese; that is, to move manufacturing facilities offshore. "They will only do that to a limited extent, for they are well aware of the fact that such an exodus creates a hollowing of the economic base of the society," Mr Arai explains. He adds that Japan will only export low- and medium-grade technology to lesser developed countries in an effort to upgrade their economies and thus create better markets for Japanese goods.

"They see what is happening in the US as American firms move manufacturing facilities to foreign soil. The foreign countries use that advanced technology to improve their own industrial competitiveness, a factor that enhances their ability to export back to the US and thus hurt the American economy," Mr Arai says. "Japan will retain its manufacturing base and high technology and will not, like the US, export its technology to foreign countries."

Will Japan stumble as it attempts to maintain its industrial leadership? That was one of the questions the Study Team tried to get a fix on. Opinions were mixed.

"The Japanese are highly adaptable, and I don't think that is going to change," feels Bill Misaki. "They will continue to bounce right along."

Walter Berkmann isn't so sure. In the past, Japan has been able to gain advantage by quickly bringing a competitor's technology to market--by copying designs from the US or Europe. "To stay ahead in the future they will have to come up with their own designs and whether they can do that remains to be seen," he feels.

"Group action is very effective on the manufacturing floor, but individual action is necessary for innovation and that individualism is not part of their culture," Mr Berkmann says.

The Japan Productivity Center's Mr Miyai concedes the challenge exists. Japan's industrial might has been built on team rather than individual values. Japanese associate with the company they work for, rather than with the profession they are in, Mr Miyai told the team. To meet the changing attitude of society and of the younger people who may be more individualistic than their parents, Mr Miyai thinks there will have to be a shift toward increased focus on the individual--a shift that will be tricky considering Japan's team mentality.

Although he admits some change is in the wind, Mr Arai feels Americans will continue to have competitive problems with Japan. He doubts Japan's growth orientation will be stymied by any changes in the mentality and work ethic of its youth.

"Somehow they will make adjustments, because they realize they have to produce goods in order to produce value added," says Mr Arai who has spent the past three decades in the United States.

He admits to some reservation about his countrymen being able develop their capacity for innovation, but points out that the Japanese have already changed their educational system and have basic research institutions in place.

"The younger generation may have a different set of values and may not follow in the footsteps of their parents. But, by the same token, they could change and become highly innovative if they have the opportunity to become highly mobile. After all," Mr Arai points out, "innovativeness and mobility go hand-in-hand."

He reminded the group that an executive at Hitachi Seiki reported his firm wanted to study a dual system. "They want to retain the old-fashioned system of lifetime employment for core employees, but also to institute a set of pay scales and promotion schemes for those highly mobile and innovative young people," he added.

How does Joji Arai sum up his country's secret to its industrial prowess?

"Empathy," he says without hesitation, "the ability to project yourself into another's feelings. Empathy between the manufacturer and the customer so he knows precisely what the customer wants. Likewise, between management and labor so management understands precisely what labor wants and labor appreciates precisely what management expects.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Japanese machine tool and metalwokrking industry
Author:Modic, Stanley J.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Turning to hard-part turning.
Next Article:Speed, automation dominate exhibits.

Related Articles
Walking the 'world' Machine Tool Show.
Mazak bets big on future of CIM.
Hitachi Seiki celebrates 25 years in US.
Skills: your best asset.
Spain's builders pursue World Class status.
Auto break out.
Forecast 2004: adding up the pluses and minuses.
Machine tool drought is over: up, up, and away.
A pachyderm in the parlor: there is a theory in formal problem and conflict resolution that is called the "elephant in the living room" challenge.
Machine tool builders expand reach--finally.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters