Beyond Mass Production: The Japanese System and Its Transfer to the U.S.

Beyond Mass Production: The Japanese System and Its Transfer to the U.S.

Beyond Mass Production: The Japanese System and Its Transfer to the U.S.

Beyond Mass Production: The Japanese System and Its Transfer to the U.S.

Synopsis

Not long ago, American manufacturing was in sharp decline. The Big Three carmakers closed dozens of plants, mostly in Michigan and other surrounding states, eliminating more than 250,000 jobs. Another quarter of a million workers lost their jobs in related industries. Now United States manufacturing is making a comeback--thanks, in part, to the transplanting of Japanese corporations of over 25 billion dollars worth of heavy industry and 100,000 jobs. The Japanese companies are making long-term commitments where United States business leaders had seemed to give up hope. The success of these ventures is the result of the sweeping revolution in the organization of technology, work, and production that lies at the heart of the Japanese model of production. This book explores the rise of this Japanese model and provides a detailed examination of the processes which have brought about its transfer to the United States. It presents new and original data on the extent of Japanese investment in both United States heavy industry and high technology and provides an empirically-grounded discussion of the reasons why this has occurred. The authors focus on the transfer of basic elements of Japanese production organization and develop a broad conceptual theme contrasting the Japanese model of production organization with that of United States Fordism. With a wealth of illustrations and straightforward examples, this work will appeal to those interested in urban and regional economics, industrial organization, labor relations, and economic geography.

Excerpt

Two steel mills sit barely an hour apart in the heart of America's industrial rustbelt. The first is a sprawling, old, rusted mass of buildings, pipes, wires, dirt, and sheds. Inside, thousands of workers covered in sweat and grime toil over aging steel furnaces, turning molten metal into steel slabs. There is a distinct hierarchy here; each worker does his or her own job with its own rate of pay, which is codified into a legalistic system of literally hundreds of separate job classifications. Managers and supervisors in shirts and ties stand watch over the workers, who perform the actual physical labor. Strewn everywhere across the muddied dirt floor are old wires, chemical containers, tools, and all sorts of debris. The noise level is so deafening that some of the workers wear protective ear coverings. The steel moves slowly by overhead crane, or at times on aging trucks, across the huge complex to be processed into steel sheets and coils. Outside, rusted steel slabs and coils are piled everywhere; beside them rest broken-down machines, trucks, and industrial vehicles.

The second mill is a gleaming white building reminiscent of the futuristic industrial parks of Silicon Valley. Inside are brightly colored machines, day-glo-colored guardrails, and a brightly polished concrete floor. Gleaming sheets of steel zip through the machinery, like sheets of paper through a paper mill. At the center of the process stands a large glass-enclosed booth housing computers, digital readouts, and electronic gauges and controls. Workers, managers, and engineers in the same dark uniforms oversee the process, but do not actually handle the steel. The workers themselves monitor, modify, and program the computers that guide the steelmaking process. Some even carry mobile computer packs so they can control the process from anywhere within the plant. They do so with assistance from, but not the interference of, managers and engineers. These workers, engineers, and supervisors are constantly discussing new ways to improve the process and make it more efficient. Strikingly, there are no time clocks or time cards in this factory; everyone here draws a monthly salary. This steel mill produces cold-rolled steel in less than an hour from start to finish; it used to take as long as 12 days for the same process.

The first factory is owned and operated by a U.S. business, and the other is a joint venture between a Japanese steel company and an American one. This book attempts to explain how such a contrast could exist. It provides a theoretical and historical analysis of the Japanese production system and examines the transfer of . . .

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