Introduction to Industrial Engineering

By Jane M. Fraser

Chapter 12

The past and the future

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12.9 Japan after World War II:

The recovery of Japan after World War II has many explanations: Japan was forbidden to be involved in military industries, the Japanese concentrated on consumer products; powerful conglomerates of industry and banks (zaibatsus) poured money into selected companies; the Japanese people consented to great sacrifices in order to support the recovery.

The Japanese themselves point to American W. Edwards Deming as one factor in their success. During the War, Deming was one of many who helped apply statistical quality control methods developed by Walter Shewhart at Bell Labs to help with the industrial mobilization. After the war, Deming was disappointed by American industry’s rejection of these methods. Deming visited Japan after the war as representative of the US government, to help the Japanese set up a census. He met with Japanese engineers interested in applying Shewhart’s methods. In 1950, the Japanese Union of Engineers invited Deming to give a series of lectures on quality control, which were attended by top Japanese industrialists.Within months, they found amazing increase in productivity and statistical quality control took off in Japan. “The top people came to Deming with a desire to learn that bordered on obssession.” (Halberstam, page 316). The Japanese integrated the statistical methods into their companies, involving all the workers in the movement to improve quality.

American industry flourished in the postwar boom in the US, but found itself getting hints and finally clear indications of Japanese competition in the 1970s. Halberstam tells how Hal Sperlich, a Ford executive, visited a Japanese auto factory in the early seventies and was amazed to find that the factories had no area dedicated to repairing shoddy work; in fact the plant had no inspectors. “Sperlich left that factory somewhat shaken: In America, he thought, we have repair bins the size of football fields” (Halberstam, page 716). William Ouchi wrote that when he began to study Japanese practices in 1973, there was little interest in the US in his findings. When his book, Theory X, was published in 1981, interest had grown tremendously and the book was a best seller. However, even in 1981, a top officer in Motorola warned American manufacturers of computer chips that they were complacent and not paying enough attention to Japanese quality (Warshofsky, page 14). In 1981, Ford engineers compared automatic transmissions, some built by Mazda for the Ford Escorts, and some built by Ford. “The ones made in Japan were well liked by our customers; many of those from Ohio were not. Ours were more erratic; many shifted poorly through the gears, and customers said they didn’t like the way they performed.” The difference was due to the tighter tolerances in the Japanese made transmissions. (Peterson, page 15).

In 19xx, NBC aired a documentary If Japan Can, Why Can’t We. The documentary explained what Japan was doing and especially stressed the contributions of Deming. Donald Peterson, then president of Ford, was one of many CEOs motivated to call Deming. Deming said his phone rang off the hook.

Deming began with statistical quality control, but he recognized that success depended on involving everyone. His 14 points are a manifesto for worker involvement and worker pride. Peterson sent teams from Ford to visit Japanese companies: “Before those visits, many of the people at Ford believed that the Japanese were succeeding because they used highly sophisticated machinery. Other thought their industry was orchestrated by Japan’s government. The value of our visits, however, lay in Ford people’s discovery that the real secret was how the people worked together -- how the Japanese companies organized their people into teams, trained their workers with the skills they needed, and gave them the power to do their jobs properly. Somehow or other, they had managed to hold on to a fundamental simplicity of human enterprise, while we built layers of bureaucracy” (Peterson, page 20).

In a return to using the brain, not just the brawn, of the worker, the Japanese methods, building on Deming, actually deTaylorize work. “The classical Taylor model of scientific management, which favored the separation of mental from physical labor and the retention of all decision making in the hands of management, is abaondoned in favor of a cooperative team approach designed to harness the full mental capabilities and work experience of everyone involved in the process ...” (Rifkin, page 97).

While Deming’s principles as filtered through the Japanese methods argue for reskilling work and reject of Taylor’s belief that workers should just do what they are told, Taylorism lives on, only now it is called McDonaldization.

Taiichi Ohno, Toyota Production System developed between 1945 and 1970.

While the US had much to learn from Japanese methods, careful observers realized that the differences between Japanese and American societies were so great that not all ideas could be imported (some of the cooperation among Japanese companies would violate US antitrust laws), that the Japanese methods were not always what they seemed (for example, life time employment was limited to a minority), and American companies, unheralded, were already using many of the new Japanese methods. Ouchi in Theory Z, examined Japanese practices in their treatment of workers, distilled them to the central ideas which he called Theory Z, and discovered that the best examples of Theory Z management were American companies.