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- Flexible Automation in Japan by J. HARTLEY

Share Give access Share full text access. Share full text access. Please review our Terms and Conditions of Use and check box below to share full-text version of article. Related Information. Close Figure Viewer. Browse All Figures Return to Figure. Previous Figure Next Figure. Email or Customer ID. Forgot password? Old Password. Bakken, a vice president of the Ford Motor Company.

While industrial robots were considered interesting toys in the United States during the early 's, Japanese auto companies were buying them by the hundreds.

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In addition to improving productivity by reducing the amount of labor that goes into a car, robot welders improve quality by welding the same spot each time, eliminating the errors that are inevitable when work is done by hand. Moreover, robots do not get tired near the end of a shift and make mistakes.

Nor do they not miss work because they are sick. Most of the robots in Japanese auto factories are Japaneseproduced, but are based on technology licensed from American companies. American auto makers are moving rapidly to add automation, at least in some areas, as they convert their plants to produce new models.

Automation, robotics, and the factory of the future

At the Chrysler Corporation's older Jefferson Avenue plant in Detroit, 98 percent of all body welds are done by large automatic machines or by individual robot arms, called ''goosenecks'' because of their reaching, twisting movements. The companies have been less adventurous in painting, with workers still applying some of the coats of paint manually. An exception is the General Motors Corporation, which is installing a complex, robot painting system in its new plants as they are built. Executives of American auto companies concede there is an automation gap compared with the Japanese.

The reasons, they say, have their roots in the short-term financial standards of the domestic industry and the two countries' different ways of treating employees.


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Mathis, vice president for manufacturing at Chrysler. We flex our production with people: If demand is down, we use fewer people.


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The Japanese auto companies have 80 percent guaranteed employment. If sales are down, they run the equipment more slowly and keep the people. If sales are up, they speed it up. As a result, they have invested with little regard to return on investment over time. The Japanese acceptance of new technology may also be a result of the technical background of most top auto company executives here, compared with the financial orientation of many American managers.

For example, two of the three senior executives of the Toyota Motor Corporation, Eiji Toyoda, the chairman, and Shoichiro Toyoda, the president, are engineers. Shoichiro Toyoda, in addition, holds a doctorate in engineering. As a result, Japanese executives seem to evaluate new technology in broader terms than immediate financial return. John T.

ISBN 10: 3662072513

Eby, head of Ford's operations in Japan and a director of the Toyo Kogyo Company, which Ford partly owns, observed that the Japanese auto companies tend to disregard whether it is cheaper to use a person or a machine in each individual operation, a major concern in American factories. But the robot can work two shifts, and the company does not have to pay two salaries, so the robot actually is equivalent to 1. Cheaper in the Long Run. Ultimately, the Japanese have found, this heavy investment in automation has produced a production system that is cheaper in the long run, since higher-quality products mean fewer repairs in the factory and less warranty work after the car is sold.

As useful as they are, robots and other automated equipment are just machines running though a preprogrammed routine. An out-ofadjustment robot will attempt to weld an empty spot in midair all day unless the problem is detected and fixed. To guard against this, Japanese manufacturers have developed machines to inspect other machines' output. In our case, the defect is fed back automatically and the decision to stop is made automatically. A good example of how such a system works can be observed at the Anjo alternator plant of the Nippondenso Company, a member of the Toyota group.

As part of the electrical generating device moves along the assembly line, a tool descends and inserts two electrical contacts. The piece is then shifted a few inches so two probes can check to see if the contacts are in place and will carry current. If not, the piece is rejected.