Autonomation and Transfer of Japanese Methods

Although just in time systems control production quantities, the production flow would be interrupted if the items delivered were defective. The Autonomation system is designed to ensure that, theoretically, 100 percent good units flow to subsequent operations. It is, therefore, an integral part of a well-operating just-in-time system. Autonomation, meaning “autonomous defects control” depends on both automatic stop devices and worker team work.

In Toyota factories, almost all machines are autonomous, meaning that they are equipped with automatic stopping devices to prevent any large output of defects; Bakayoke is one such mechanism.

In manual work, if any abnormality occurs on assembly lines, the concept of autonomation is implemented by Andon; if a worker observes something abnormal, a stop button can be pushed that stops the entire line. The problem is then cleared before defective items are produced in any quantity.

In addition, there is a Yo-i-don (which means ready, set, go) system that contributes to autonomation as well as to smooth work flow. The Yo-i-don system involves teamwork between adjacent operations to make sur6e that work at the stations is balanced; it involves the Andon system when necessary. In the Yo-i-don system, when each worker at each station has completed operations, each will press a button. At the end of the cycle time, a red light automatically goes on at each work station where work is not complete. The red lights indicate delays, and the entire line stops until all red lights are off. When this happens, teamwork comes into play, for workers nearby pitch in to help workers who are having difficulty.

Given Schonberger’s model for how the Japanese manufacturing system works, we need to consider whether or not the concepts can be transferred to the United States or whether the concepts are culturally dependent.

The close linking of workers in the process sequence produces a situation that enables communication and the potential solution of mutual problems. Participation in the solution of problems is a key to the functioning of the system and its success. An authoritarian manager would not fit into Japanese system.

If it is the situation that closely links workers that is truly unique, then it seems unlikely that it is culturally dependent. Although few people doubt that the Japanese culture supports the value of cooperation and the type of system they have evolved, the same close linking of workers in a US manufacturing system should produce similar results, assuming that worker participation is fostered. Indeed, the system is now being applied in Japanese – US manufacturing operations at Kawasaki, Matsushita, Sanyo, Sharp, and Sony. The management of these plants is Japanese but the workers are American.

But now there are many purely American companies that have installed JIT concepts and techniques, companies as American as Apple pie, representing “blue chip” concerns as well as smaller ones. There is a growing awareness of these applications. Sepehri (1986) summarizes the experience of 13 US companies that have installed JIT and gives detailed case studies for nine of them, there being applications in more than one division of some. The 13 companies are Apple Computers, Black & Decker, Derre & Company; Franklin Electric, FMC Corporation, General Electric, Harley Davidson, Helwett Packard, IBM, Motorola, Omark Industries, Toyota Motor Manufacturing US and 3M.

Perhaps the most interesting observation that emerges is that the sample of six of Sepehri’s 13 US Companies recorded results and made a comparison to those recorded by the Japanese firms. This seems to indicate that Sepehri’s book title, Just in Time — Not Just in Japan is appropriate. The transferability of JIT methods to the United States has already happened, and it is spreading rapidly.

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