Factories in Japan get creative
News On Japan via BusinessWorld -- Jun 06
In a darkened industrial hangar in eastern Osaka, Yoshihiro Yamanaka is tearing up the rule book that once made Japanese manufacturing the feared global standard of efficiency. At Fuji Spring, a company with one factory, one product and 18 workers, Mr. Yamanaka has dimmed the lights, allowed inventories to pile up and -- most strikingly -- shut off an automated part of his assembly to do more jobs by hand.
The goal is to slash power consumption in the face of possible electric shortages, a new uncertainty that has pushed Japan's already embattled manufacturers closer to the brink.
But in rejecting Japan's accepted industrial wisdom, Mr. Yamanaka is also accepting the do-or-die risk that customers will pay more for his springs.
"Until recently, my priority had been to cut people and unnecessary steps as much as possible. Unless we did so, we could not win the pricing battle," Mr. Yamanaka, 59, said on a recent tour of his factory, which makes springs that go into console boxes in the Nissan Leaf electric car and Panasonic Corp's fuel cells assemblies.
"But we are no longer battling on price."
How small Osaka factories like Fuji Spring ride out the summer and its uncertainties is a window into the bigger question of whether resource-poor Japan will follow the United States in its drift away from manufacturing, a source of national anxiety and debate for three decades.
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