4. Japanese factory paradigm shift (First published in Japanese in June, 2014)

  In assembly-type manufacturing, the common use of parts is very important for cost reduction and quality stability. In order to maintain the stable operation in a factory while responding to diversification and individualization of market needs, it need to be oriented that mass customization that can respond to product variations only by combining parts or replacing some parts.

  In addition, standardization of operation is required at individual workplaces (work centers). By standardizing working, quality variations among workers are eliminated, and at the same time, the speed of proficiency for each worker is increased, making multi-skilled operation easier. If individual operations are standardized, it will be possible to balance the capabilities of the entire line, optimize process design, and develop or line up on automated lines.

  Thus, within the manufacturing industry, efforts to standardize parts and standardize operation have been actively carried out as a company-wide activity. The technical capabilities and high productivity of Japanese manufacturing industry can be said to be the result of these efforts. These activities have been promoted as part of in-house KAIZEN activities (Tuning  processes by engineers at the site), with collaboration between different departments such as design, production, and sales.

  However, such commonization and standardization efforts are not progressing at all among companies. Except for the case of cooperation within the so-called Kyrez company (one of a group companies governed a big company), which has a strong influence on the manufacturer side, there are not many questions about standardization and standardization in the supply chain and engineering chain. This is natural in a sense. In other words, if the two organizations are in a relationship of competition rather than cooperation, it is difficult to establish a win-win relationship that seeks to increase the sum of their mutual benefits.

  However, this situation will change if the competitive environment changes and the game rules change. When the market has expanded globally and many of its competitors have become supply chains that include overseas global companies, it has become necessary to fight in a global environment while cooperating with competitors. This is why the word supply chain management has been attracting attention since the late 1990s.

  However, that is not to say that sharing and standardization has progressed between companies. There are a number of reasons, and the biggest factor among them is the overly closed nature of individual companies and factories, and self-sufficiency.

  Basically, a lot of know-how is built into the factory as tacit knowledge. Therefore, it is a natural act to conceal such unique technology from the viewpoint of corporate competition. However, many factories cannot distinguish what is unique know-how and what is common, and as a result hide everything. Coupled with the low liquidity of human resources, the result was that Mini-Galapagos was born everywhere and evolved individually.

  Another is policy of independence. It is valuable from the viewpoint of value making by manufacturing by themselves and not making a black box, but it is disadvantageous from the viewpoint of dynamic supply chain, standardization of parts, and standardization of elemental technology. Even though people who say that it is differentiating that they do not follow external standards and make them with their own internal standards, Isn’t it “additional value-added ” rampant with recreated manufacturing in their own way in many places, even though there are no functional differences?

  In this way, it can be said that the current situation is that Japanese companies that have a very high level of commonization and standardization within their companies, however, they are extremely poor at strengthening collaboration and platform development centered on standardization among companies. And without overcoming this situation and resolving the problems that cause it, it is also true that individual manufacturers cannot survive in global competition.

  The key to solving this is the proper use of strict standards and “loose standards”. Strict standards are standards that are indispensable in terms of product functions and quality, as well as product marketing strategies, including safety standards and standards set by law. On the other hand, a loose standard is a standard that may or may not be followed. Or, within a certain range, it can be said that it is a standard that can be changed independently according to each situation.