3. People, tools, machines, robots, and systems (First published in Japanese in June, 2014)

  Nonetheless, it is highly likely that such a scenario is just a reminder, and in fact, manufacturing in Japan will still remain at the top of the world for the time being. It may not be a situation that must be dealt with instantly tomorrow or today. First of all, it will be necessary to go back to the essence of manufacturing, rediscover the goodness of manufacturing in Japan, determine the major goals, and steadily accumulate results toward that goal.

  As a fact of the current situation of manufacturing, if it is the fact that attractive products that surpass the world have not been born in Japan over the past few years, it is not only a matter of product ideas and creativity, but also, I think that ,this is because the distance between “things” and “making ” has gone apart. In other words, in the process of production and in the process of trial and error, there are cases where new inspirations and connections are born and grow into concepts or motifs that become the core of the final product.

  If so, the product design phase and the product production phase must be inextricably linked. In fact, the production site of a local factory with advanced processing technology has no boundaries when it comes to the processing of orders, trial production of new drawings, research based on original ideas and hypotheses. The technology will be refined by spiral PDCA , which involves thinking while processing and processing based on the new idea. The production site is the source of knowledge creation.

  So are automation and efforts to reduce human operation incompatible with these human-centric approaches? It’s not. It is very paradoxical, but in order to automate and unmanned factories, we need people who can do it. Unmanned factories are the object of making them, and the place where they make and run unmanned factories is their production site. Unmanned factories can only be realized with so many people who design, build, operate and maintain them.

  In this way, to avoid being fooled by Mobius’s circular rhetoric, it is a good idea to reconfirm the concept of a system here. In general, a system is a “structure that consists of multiple elements and that behaves together as a whole by being involved in complex relationships with each other.” Automobiles, mobile phones, and robots are all systems.

What you should pay attention to here is the relationship between the system and “myself”, or about the inner and outer boundaries of the system. When driving a car or talking on a mobile phone, one is a user of the system and is outside the system. On the other hand, for “myself”, who works in the production system, I am part of the production system and inside the system. Let’s call the second kind of system that the person is inside the system and is a component of it, like the latter.

  In the engineering world, we have dealt with a lot of systems where people are outside, such as cars and mobile phones (let’s call this the first type of system). On the other hand, the behavior of the second type of system does not depend only on the laws of nature and cannot be theorized, because people don’t move as designers think. Moreover, if the production system itself is remade by Kaizen, it is no longer possible to push it into a theoretical model.

  No matter how smart a robot is made by artificial intelligence, it is only an autonomous machine made by humans. On the other hand, production systems that include people can be transformed into any production system. The importance of cooperation between people and robots, or production systems centered on people, is because of their ability to deal with such unknown situations.

  When discussing Japanese manufacturing, or Japanese identity in manufacturing, you will be able to see things that you couldn’t see in various ways based on this system theory viewpoint or the positional relationship between people and systems. In the following chapters, I would like to discuss new forms of Japanese manufacturing that can be seen through these glasses.