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Über dieses Buch

This book, in contrast with previous research and popular discussions that focus on the productivity of workers, identifies the critical influence of supervisors and engineers as key drivers of productivity differentials. To do so, it analyzes productivity at a Japanese car component plant and its three offshoot plants located in the United States, Thailand, and China and how productivity evolved at these plants from the mid-1990s to the early 2010s. The author’s participatory observation approach reveals that productivity and work practices converged to a limited degree over the years at all four plants.

Particularly influential are the persistent differences at these plants in the extent to which workers learn how to combine and integrate their production skills with troubleshooting skills. Supervisors play a key role in developing this integration in Japan, while worker skills remain separated in the other countries. Integrated skill development is promoted in Japan through the trusting relationships that first-line supervisors enjoy with their workforce. In the plants abroad, in contrast, the persistence of workers’ control over their individual skill development and careers impedes the development of integrated skills. Manufacturing engineers at the Japanese mother plant also play key linking roles, thereby enhancing communications and problem-solving on the shop floor, whereas manufacturing engineers at the US, Thai, and Chinese plants play more limited and compartmentalized roles. As a result, productivity remains high in Japan and lags in the other plants. Surprisingly, Japanese managers remain reluctant to introduce these more productive work practices in the offshoot plants.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Introduction

With extensive data and field observations from one Japanese car component firm which has been recognized as one of the best practice manufacturing firms, this book analyzes how production workplaces at the mother plant of this firm in Japan and its three transplants in the United States, Thailand, and China underwent change from the mid-1990s to the early 2010s. Additionally, differences among the mother plant and the three transplants, and the reasons for the differences, are examined. Productivity and work practices, specifically production workers’ skills, assistant first-line supervisors’ control, and manufacturing engineers’ roles in assembly processes are focused on. The role and importance of each employee’s individual choices is developed as the analytic concept informing this book. Although the Thai and Chinese transplants had manufactured an older type of car component, the mother plant and the U.S., Thai, and Chinese transplants have manufactured the same standard type of car component since the mid-2000s. The mother plant and the U.S. transplant have utilized automatic transfer machine systems, whereas the Thai and Chinese transplants have used traditional assembly lines. Notably, production volume ratios of the car components at the Chinese and Thai transplants increased from the late 1990s to the early 2010s, while production volume ratios of the car components at the mother plant and the U.S. transplant decreased.
Hiromichi Shibata

Chapter 2. The Mother Plant in Japan and Its Transplant in the United States

Utilizing similar automatic transfer machine systems and similar parts to manufacture the same standard type of car component, productivity at the Japanese mother plant remained higher by 10 % than that at the U.S. transplant in the early 2010s. Japanese manufacturing engineers at the headquarters and the mother plant developed ways to introduce more efficient automatic transfer machine systems into the mother plant in 2002. In 2003, the transfer machine systems were modified in order to be introduced at the U.S. transplant. To respond to the new transfer machine systems, the assistant first-line supervisors at the mother plant had the production workers acquire some electrical troubleshooting skills in addition to mechanical troubleshooting skills, based on trusting relationships with production workers. At the U.S. transplant, however, production workers’ skills were separated from troubleshooting skills. The U.S. transplant introduced new production expert positions to provide troubleshooting in 1999. However, exercising the right to choice concerning transfers that they had via a seniority-based job-bid system, some of the production experts moved to higher wage maintenance jobs. Although manufacturing engineers at the U.S. transplant participated in modifying new automatic transfer machine systems employing advanced technology, the American manufacturing engineers played more partial roles than did their Japanese counterparts at the mother plant.
Hiromichi Shibata

Chapter 3. The Transplants in Thailand and China

Although the Thai and Chinese transplants had manufactured an older type of car component until the mid-2000s, both transplants have utilized similar traditional assembly lines to produce the same standard type of car component as the Japanese mother plant and the U.S. transplant did using automatic transfer machine systems. The Chinese transplant has aimed to match the productivity goals of the Thai transplant, not of the Japanese mother plant. Productivity at the Thai transplant, which was by far the highest among the transplants utilizing traditional assembly lines, was higher by 10 % than productivity at the Chinese transplant in the early 2010s. Production workers at the Thai and Chinese transplants were prohibited from troubleshooting by assistant first-line supervisors. The assistant first-line supervisors at both transplants executed limited control over production workers. The roles of manufacturing engineers at the Thai and Chinese transplants were partial and limited. Manufacturing engineers at the Thai transplant played new supporting roles in other transplants in ASEAN countries. Facing difficulties in workplace control due to the plant’s history, the Chinese transplant retained energetic and high-potential manufacturing engineers.
Hiromichi Shibata

Chapter 4. Conclusion

Productivity and work practices show only limited convergence across the Japanese mother plant and the U.S., Thai, and Chinese transplants. Productivity gaps between the mother plant and the U.S. transplant and productivity differences between the Thai and Chinese transplants still remain at 10 %. Production workers’ skills that are integrated with troubleshooting skills in Japan contrast with production workers’ skills separated from troubleshooting skills in the United States, Thailand, and China. Decision-making by assistant first-line supervisors based on trusting relationships with workers in Japan differs from supervisors’ limited control over workers and frequent worker initiated job transfers (by individual choice) in the United States, Thailand, and China. Manufacturing engineers at the mother plant play full/linking roles, including involvement in production line design innovation and production method development, whereas manufacturing engineers at the U.S., Thai, and Chinese transplants play partial/limited roles. One of the main reasons for the differences is the key characteristic of “integration with employment stability” in Japan versus “independence with job instability” in the United States, Thailand, and China, these being influenced by embedded social norms and institutional factors. Also influential is the reluctance of Japanese managers to transfer successful work practices developed at the mother plant to its transplants.
Hiromichi Shibata

Backmatter

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