Japan’s Manufacturing Techniques

Nations are built not with bricks and stones but with the capacity to create and apply knowledge. The result of knowledge creation and application in manufacturing and management practices is well demonstrated by Japan. Today we are witness to many industrialized economies that are strengthening their manufacturing activities simply by adopting these techniques.

The distinguishing characteristics associated with Japanese manufacturing techniques include an emphasis on designing and redesigning processes to optimize efficiency and a strong commitment to quality.

The manufacturing techniques that Japanese companies practice provide a competitive advantage and outstanding economic performance. The key for success is an understanding of the broad context of manufacturing culture, infrastructure and environment. These sound manufacturing and business techniques created and adopted by leading Japanese manufacturers have turned out to be the secret of their market leadership in many industries.

Following are a few of these concepts, which can help in managing any business set-up in a better way:

  • Kaizen is one such technique, which in Japanese means ‘improve.’ This is commonly recognized as practices focusing on continuous improvement in manufacturing activities, business activities in general, and even life in general, depending on interpretation and usage. By improving standardized activities and processes, Kaizen helps in eliminating waste.
  • Another management Japanese technique is the 5-S. It is a technique used to establish and maintain quality environment in an organization. It has five elements: Seiri (sorting out useful and frequently used materials and tools from unwanted and rarely used things); Seiton (keeping things in the right place systematically so that searching or movement time is minimized); Seiso (keeping everything around you clean and in a neat manner); Seiketsu (standardizing the above principles in everyday life) and Shitsuke (inculcating good habits and practicing them continuously). The 5-S practice helps everyone in the organization to live a better life.
  • Kanban and ‘Just in Time’ are two other practices in inventory management practices that were pioneered by the Japanese automobile manufacturers, such as Toyota. Quality improvement, on the other hand, is the result of lower proportion of component scrap since the components spend less time in the supply chain.
  • Poka-yoke is a process improvement focused on training of workers for mastering the increasingly complicated tasks to selectively redesign the tasks so they could be more easily and reliably mastered. It involves designing a foolproof process to eliminate the chance of errors.
  • Jidoka is a practice by means of which an individual worker runs several machines simultaneously. Japan thus designs such machines that eliminate both error and the need for constant supervision.
  • Muda is another technique that reduces wasteful activity in service processes. It ensures process efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Mura curiously combines rigidity and flexibility and thus teaches service process improvement.
  • Reducing Muri means reducing physical strain. In services process improvement, Muri applies to convoluted and unnecessary routings, physical transfer, and distances paper files may have to travel for a process to complete.
  • Genchi Gembutsu means going to the actual scene (genchi) and confirming the actual scene (gembutsu). Observation of service processes at the point where it is actually delivered may unearth a host of problems such as lack of training, unnecessary steps, or a number of other areas that would benefit from small but significant process improvement ideas.

This is a glimpse of manufacturing techniques that Japan has so intellectually created and so profoundly practiced in its manufacturing systems that even with no natural resources, it has acquired the status of one of the most industrialized nations. Can we learn from Japan?

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Lectures, Line of Sight.

Accounting Information

Accurate cost data are required for the successful implementation of the integrated physical distribution management concept using total cost analysis, for the management and control of physical distribution operations, and to aid in setting selling prices and in justifying price differentials.

As the cost of physical distribution increases, the need for accurate accounting for the costs becomes increasingly critical. Since the physical distribution function is relatively more energy intensive and labor intensive than other areas of the firm, its ratio of costs to total company costs has been steadily increasing. Efficient and effective distribution policies cannot be determined until the costs related to separate functional areas and their interaction are made available to distribution decision makers.

The quality of the accounting data will influence management’s ability to exploit new markets, take advantage of innovative transportation systems, make changes in packaging, choose between common carriers and private trucking, increase deliveries or increase inventories, and determine to what extent the order-processing system should be automated.

The accounting system must be capable of providing information to answer the following questions:

a)        What are the impacts of physical distribution costs on contribution by product, by territory, by customer, and by salesperson?

b)        What are the costs associated with providing additional levels of customer service? What trade-offs are necessary and what are the incremental benefits or losses?

c)        What is the optimal amount of inventory? How sensitive is the inventory level to changes in warehousing patterns or to changes in customer service levels? How much does it cost to hold inventory?

d)        What mix of transportation modes and carriers should be used?

e)        How many field warehouses should be used and where should they be located?

f)          How many production set-ups are required? Which plants will be used to produce each product?

g)        To what extent should the order-processing system be automated?

To answer these and other questions requires knowledge of the costs and revenues that will change if the physical distribution system changes. That is, determination of a product’s contribution should be based on how corporate revenues, expenses, and hence profitability would change if the product line were dropped. Any costs or revenues that are unaffected by the decision are irrelevant to the problem. For example, a relevant cost woul be public warehouse handling charges associated with a product’s sales; a non-relevant cost would be the overhead costs associated with the firm’s private trucking fleet.

Implementation of this approach to deceision making is severely hampered by the lack of availability of the right accounting data or the inability to use the data when they are available. The best and most sophisticated models are only as good as the accounting input, and a number of recent studies attest to the gross inadequacies of distribution cost data.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Lectures, Line of Sight