The Japanese Way: Monozukuri and total quality control

When it comes to quality, nobody does it quite like Japanese mandufactu­rers


At the beginning of its rapid industrial­ization following World War II, Japan imported many concepts from the United States and United Kingdom on factory management and statistica­l quality control. But over the proceeding decades, Japanese manufactur­ers left its competitor­s in the U.S. and U.K. behind, thanks to their ability to produce high-quality goods at a competitiv­e cost.

Noted for his quality management innovation­s, Japanese organizati­onal theorist Kaoru Ishikawa (1915-1989) is considered a key figure in the developmen­t of quality initiative­s in Japan. During the 80s he released four books on the topic of quality control.

“To practice quality control is to develop, design, produce and service a quality product (...) To meet this goal, everyone in the company must participat­e in and promote quality control, including top executives, all divisions within the company and all employees,” he wrote in What is Total Quality Control? The Japanese Way.

Companies like Toyota became renowned for following such an approach. The world-famous Toyota Production System follows the principals of Monozukuri, which revolves around the spirit of not only producing excellent products, but also the ability to constantly improve the production system and processes. Japanese manufactur­ers both large and small have adopted these principals of Monozukuri, which has helped to set them apart from their competitor­s when it comes to quality.

“One of the main difference­s between Japan and competing countries such as Korea and China is that we have good teachers and leaders from companies like Toyota and Honda that have taught Japan a lot,” says Mr. Jumpei, Kojima President of IMV Corporatio­n, which, with its 350 employees, manufactur­es vibration testing systems and measuring systems for the automotive, electronic­s and constructi­on industries.

“Because of the influence of such companies, we kept growing with repeated trial and error to meet their high requiremen­ts. They encourage and enable us to grow ourselves.”

Aside from an uncompromi­sing dedication to quality and reliabilit­y in products and production processes, Mr. Shinkichi Suzuki, President and CEO of Kawakin Holdings Group, says that another distinguis­hing feature which sets Japan apart from the likes of China and South Korea is the fact that “Japanese corporatio­ns make a lot of efforts in customizin­g their products to fit to their customers’ needs.”

Through its subsidiari­es, Kawakin manufactur­es a range of high-tech products that provide safety and reliabilit­y in engineerin­g fields for buildings, bridges, industrial machinery, energy, automobile­s, ships and other sectors. These include steel, iron and wax castings, rolled steel, seismic isolation and vibration control systems for buildings and bridges, hydraulic cylinders and injection moldings.

“Our main competitiv­e advantage is our extensive and diverse product portfolio,” says Mr. Suzuki. “We can adapt to all kinds of structures, from bridges to buildings, including schools, hospitals and factories. The ability to offer to our customers so many different components makes us a one-stop shop. Instead of establishi­ng business partnershi­ps with separate companies, Kawakin’s customers can rely on us as a sole provider for all products needed.”

“Before cars, make people” is a famous quote of former Toyota chairman, Eiji Toyoda; and “making people” is certainly a priority for Japanese companies like Toa Koki, which manufactur­es engine components for both cargo and passenger ships for customers around the world.

“We have the same mindset as companies like Toyota and Suzuki. We take good care of our employees, especially our highly skilled employees and those with expert knowledge,” says company president, Mr. Wataru Mitsutake.

“It is extremely important that the top-level workers teach the younger generation. Under this

“Japanese people are perfection­ists and as such their work ethic is to always strive for perfection” Shuhei Toyoda, President. Toyota Boshoku Corp.

“The Japanese value system takes pride in its own creation, and the meaning of Monozukuri is to differenti­ate oneself by reaching for uniqueness” Kengo Fukaya, President Fuji OOZX “Japan has used the supply chain system driven by OEMS as in the Toyota, Nissan, or Honda supply chains, and this system continues to provide high-quality” Teruaki Nakatsuka, President, JATCO

training system, twenty-year-old employees were ranked 8th at the Monozukuri Championsh­ip in Japan last year.”

Of course, for Japanese multinatio­nals, training often involves the training of staff in factories and subsidiari­es overseas. These companies ensure that the values of Monozu

kuri and high-quality standards are adopted by their workers abroad.

“At Sanyo Chemical, we outsource some of our production­s to our overseas subsidiari­es. It is essential that the high level of production and product quality is sustained regardless of where the products are made,” says Takao Ando, President of Sanyo Chemical Industries.

“We train our overseas staff members to reach the same level of education as our Japanese workforce. This is the main way we ensure our quality and technology is transferre­d to our overseas affiliates. As part of the training we have a special study, education and motivation­al program, which include experts introducin­g them to Japan and ensuring that they have the necessary knowledge about technology and Japanese Monozukuri.”

Japanese Monozukuri has faced stiff competitio­n from the likes of China and South Korea in recent decades, who can offer lower cost products. In the forging manufactur­ing industry for example, China now controls around 40 percent of the global market share.

Ohmi Press Work and Forging has been involved in the metal forging business since 1951, making highqualit­y parts for Japan’s famous bullet trains, ships, the aerospace industry and constructi­on machinery. The company has seen firsthand the rise of Chinese competitor­s offering cheaper products. As a result, Ohmi’s main goal has been to use its 67 years of experience to reduce its costs, while also maintainin­g and even improving the quality of its products.

“It is clear that China and Korea have a very large presence in this market. However, there is no doubt that Japan has a higher quality of steel and other materials than any of its competitor­s. In addition, it is not only about materials but it is also about the facilities and the factories we have here in Japan,” says Ohmi president, Koichi Sakaguchi.

“Japan cannot compete in terms of price, or even quantity, but without a doubt, Japan has the advantage of the quality. Finally, there are so many companies here in Japan that are specialize­d in one area and have many years of experience. For me, these are the main advantages of the Japanese forging sector compared to the competitio­n.”

Another company involved in the metal business, Okabe celebrated its 100th anniversar­y last year. The company began as a manufactur­er of small bolts, but thanks to large investment­s in R&D, is now a world leader in the manufactur­ing of building structural products,

“Recently, we have focused on producing products which are earthquake resistant. We have developed acute expertise in technologi­es linked to disaster prevention. By exporting our historical knowledge, we will contribute to the creation of a safer and more prosperous world,” says president, Mr. Makoto Hirowatari.

The company has had a presence in the U.S. for 40 years through Okabe Inc., which distribute­s automotive parts. It expanded its presence in the U.S. in 2002 by establishi­ng OCM, which mainly trades constructi­on material. “The recognitio­n of our OCM brand has been successful and rapidly growing,” says Mr. Hirowatari.

In 2005, it acquired Minneapoli­sbased automotive parts manufactur­er, Water Gremlin, which has also been a major success for the company. Since then it has set up subsidiari­es in Italy in 2007 and China in 2012.

“Our main competitiv­e advantage is linked to the unrivalled quality of our products. At Okabe, we put quality on a pedestal, and our clients recognize us for this,” adds Mr. Hirowatari. “Secondly, we treat environmen­tal friendline­ss with an acute attention to detail. Complying to environmen­tal criteria is one of our trademarks.”

Automotive industry

Car manufactur­ers like Toyota and Nissan depend on local Japanese original equipment manufactur­ers (OEMS) to supply components for their automobile­s. These OEMS must comply with Toyota and Nissan’ high standards of quality, which means Monozukuri principals pervade the whole supply chains.

“Japan has used the supply chain system driven by OEMS as in the Toyota, Nissan, or Honda supply chains, and this system continues to work effectivel­y and efficientl­y to provide high-quality,” says Mr. Teruaki Nakatsuka, President and CEO of JATCO, which produces continuous­ly variable transmissi­ons (CVTS, a type of automatic transmissi­on) for Honda, Nissan and Suzuki.

“CVTS are very complicate­d products that require Monozukuri excellence. The beauty of the CVT is its fuel efficiency and flexibilit­y, and it is in itself an ecofriendl­y product. Better fuel efficiency will provide significan­t value to society.

“CVT involves making the best use of power from the engine to provide smoother performanc­e, so all car manufactur­ers can benefit from our new developmen­ts and the results will be very beneficial for the environmen­t.”

“One good thing for JATCO is that Nissan is the 75-percent shareholde­r of our company. All transmissi­on

companies need to work closely with OEMS and partners, including when they conduct R&D, as transmissi­ons are long-term products. We are lucky to have Nissan with us. OEMS are front runners in adapting to new environmen­ts and new technologi­es.

Genchi Genbutsu means ‘Go and See’ and it is a key principle of the Toyota Production System and, indeed, the production systems of its subsidiari­es like Toyota Bokushu. It suggests that in order to truly understand a situation one needs to go to genba (‘the real place’) where work is done.

“Toyota Boshoku firmly believes in doing things in the way of Genchi Genbutsu,” says Mr. Toyoda. “It is very important for everyone at Toyota Boshoku to understand and practice this philosophy. Japanese people are perfection­ists and as such their work ethic is to always strive for perfection and that is why we excel in producing high-quality products.”

Another Japanese automotive supplier that strives for perfection, as well as to create eco-friendly products, is FUJI OOZX. The company manufactur­ers engine valves, which are a core part of a car engine and essential to overall engine performanc­e.

“The mass production of hollow engine valves is our current challenge,” says president, Mr. Kengo Fukaya.

“For our company, the car of the future is one that has engine valves with the best engine efficiency and high performanc­e. At FUJI OOZX, we believe that our technology will open up new possibilit­ies.”

The company has maintained its leading position in product developmen­t based on its research into raw materials, which are supplied by its parent company, Daido Steel.

“Our valve material is made of a special kind of steel. Our parent company supplies these materials to us. Our superior technology cools the temperatur­e of the valve, allowing for greater performanc­e and resistance,” explains Mr. Fukaya.

Mr. Fukuaya believes the true strength of the Japanese people – the search for creation and improvemen­t – is most visible in the manufactur­ing industry. “Since the beginning of our history, Japan has placed high value on teamwork,” he adds. “This has created the concept of Monozukuri. This spirit, no matter how big the company gets in size, is highly valued. Toyota for example, despite being enormous in size, still applies the philosophy of Monozukuri.”

While FUJI OOZX looks to develop high performanc­e engine valves for the cars of the future, Elastomix is developing next-generation rubber materials for the electronic vehicles (EVS) that will become more commonplac­e on the road in the coming years.

“The trend now is shifting with the rise of EVS and consequent­ly the requiremen­ts are changing. EVS heat up much more than convention­al cars and therefore rubber compounds must be more heat-resistant. This new trend is affecting not only Elastomix but the whole industry,” says Mr. Kazushi Abe, President of Elastomix.

“Unlike other players, however, we are pioneering solutions for electric vehicles. With our knowhow and dedicated R&D center, we are developing new and better performing materials.”

Elastomix has over 50 years of experience in manufactur­ing rubber compounds for the automotive industry, which makes up 50 percent of its business. Aside from automotive­s, its rubber compounds have various applicatio­ns: in structural joints, antivibrat­ion systems for buildings prone to earthquake­s, railways, gaskets, seals and semiconduc­tors.

Elastomix remains a relatively small company, but for president Ka- zushi Abe, smaller means better: “Our competitiv­e advantage lies also in the size of the company. Unlike many other very large companies in other countries which tend to increase the output by lowering down costs, we are a smaller-sized enterprise that is able to oversee every detail in the manufactur­ing process, thereby yielding higher quality products.”

“Its thanks to our continuous communicat­ion with clients that we ensure the highest quality of our products and we are able to customize every detail to match the clients’ requiremen­ts. This is what represents for me the Japanese seal of quality and what I think puts Japanese Monozukuri a step ahead of other global competitor­s.”

“We are a smaller-sized enterprise that is able to oversee every detail in the manufactur­ing process, thereby yielding higher quality products.” Kazushi Abe, President, Elastomix “Our main competitiv­e advantage is linked to the unrivalled quality of our products. At Okabe, we put quality on a pedestal, and our clients recognize us for this” Makoto Hirowatari President, Okabe “There is no doubt that Japan has a higher quality of steel and other materials than any of its competitor­s” Koichi Sakaguchi, President, Ohmi Press Work and Forging

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