20, 1998 Design News
DESIGN IN JAPAN
Design in the Land of the Rising Sun
In the U.S., engineers emphasize
systems and use sophisticated software. In Japan, engineers
concentrate on process and emphasize manufacturability.
The two can learn a lot from each other
Paul E. Teague, Chief Editor
Design for manufacturing. In the U.S., it's a practice
that has emerged gradually over the last few years as
companies have learned the hard way the follies of "over-the-wall"
engineering communication: "Here, we designed it.
You figure out how to make it."
In Japan, it's different. Design for manufacturing
has been a way of life for a generation, a social value,
part of the culture of cooperation and inclusion in
this small, crowded, dynamic, and industrious country.
That's the consensus from interviews with engineers
in several companies designing global products in and
Design and manufacturing often work next to each other,
where they develop design and manufacturing specs simultaneously,
says Chris Miyazaki, manager of mechatronics for THK
America. "Cross training and cross communications
are critical in Japanese engineering," he says.
"Most design takes place in cross-functional teams."
At Omron, design and production departments work together
throughout the entire product-development process, says
Yoichi Tomita, of the company's Industrial Business
Group in Japan. The group develops Omron's industrial
automation products, including PLCs, sensors, touchscreens,
timers, counters, process controllers, power supplies,
and machine vision products.
That kind of working relationship makes for an efficient
product-development process. And make no mistake about
it: Process efficiency is critical in Japanese companies,
says Jim Rideout of NMB Corp., which produces 130 million
bearings a month. "The secret to our business is
process," he says. "The better the process,
the quieter the product."
And the lower the manufacturing costs.
A recent study by consulting firm D.H. Brown, Port Chester,
NY, on agile product development notes that manufacturing
costs are 8 to 10 times design costs. So, the Japanese
encouragement of the use of manufacturing criteria in
design can yield big benefits.
One example: The D.H. Brown study reports that in the
spring of 1997, Japanese automakers decreased average
engineering lead times (the time between approval of
the exterior model design and the start of product shipment)
to 20 months. The U.S. average: 30 months.
Part of the credit, the study says, goes to a system
known as front-end loading: the acquisition of prior
knowledge and the use of rapid problem-solving techniques
that allow engineers to resolve issues earlier in the
design cycle. Product information management and knowledge-based
engineering software play a role here. So does the kind
of cross-discipline cooperation and communication typical
of Japanese companies.
As in the U.S., supplier involvement in design is important
in Japan. THK America's Miyazaki says it's critical.
"It's imperative that you get your supplier base
to really listen to what you need," he says. THK
actually has a financial stake in some of the company's
first-tier suppliers, such as platers and extruders.
Japanese engineers also work very closely with customers,
says Minoru Hayakawa, a design engineer at Amada. That
was the case recently with a new punch press the company
developed. While doing the design in Microcadam's Helix
Modeling System, engineers worked closely with manufacturing
counterparts, then traveled to the customer site to
put it together and start it up.
That example leads to two other characteristics of
Japanese design engineering: 1) Among the principal
objectives is to meet market requirements, says Oriental
Motors' Fred Otsuka; and 2) engineers stay with a project
until it's finished.
"In Japan, design engineers follow each project
through the completion of manufacturing," says
Aromat's Jack Gayara. Like many of their U.S. counterparts,
they even get involved in testing.
"As a PLC design engineer in Japan, I went through
all the testing when designs were complete," says
Armoat's PLC Product Manager Junji Ichiriyama.
With that kind of complete involvement in projects,
Japanese design engineers don't work on as many products
in a year as their counterparts in the U.S. do. They
typically handle only one or two projects a year, says
Aromat's Gayara, vs. 18 for a U.S. engineer. But the
stakes are high. THK America's Miyazaki says Japanese
engineers often are required to come up with two new
product designs a year. And, says Mark TenEyck, of Microcadam
reseller FCI Systems, they better be a hit in the market,
or the engineer's reputation could be stained.
One characteristic that Japanese and U.S. engineers
share is the reliance on CAD software. But, in Japan,
engineers are more likely to use 2D CAD while U.S. engineers,
as a whole, use more 3D solids modeling. In fact, U.S.
engineers, particularly in the automotive industry,
have made the adoption of new engineering software a
priority, while Japanese engineers often prefer to stick
with what they have, analysts say.
Naturally, there are exceptions. D.H. Brown reports
that Mazda uses CAE software to study the concerns of
human workers interacting with machinery, and to create
models of the assembly floor to detect potential problems.
Of course, as the consulting firm points out, Mazda
is owned by Ford. Overall, D.H. Brown says, Japanese
companies would benefit from the interference checking,
part-sizing analysis, and physical-property calculations
that come with the kind of 3D solids modeling U.S. engineers
Still, just as Japanese engineers can learn from the
U.S. approach to software adoption and implementation,
U.S. engineering can learn from the Japanese tradition
of emphasizing manufacturing and sharing data. U.S.
automotive companies, for example, have failed to share
information across product-development disciplines within
an organization and throughout the supplier chain, says
D. H. Brown. That failure can slow down design and make
projects more costly due to the necessity of rework
when mistakes show up downstream.
The remedy: Forget Kipling's famous claim that East
is East and West is West, and let the twain meet, at
least intellectually, to learn from each other.
(Design News Technical Editor John
Lewis contributed to this article.)
Made in Japan, AMP style
By Karen Auguston Field, Managing Editor
Sure there are differences in the way engineering is
done in Japan and the U.S., but in the end, says Paul
Youn, director of engineering for AMP's global PC business
unit, it still all comes back to physics. "There
is very little difference between how we conduct the
design process in the U.S. and how we conduct it in
Japan, says the Harrisburg, PA-based Youn.
Working from offices on the outskirts of Tokyo, AMP
engineers design and develop connectors and interconnection
devices for desktop PCs, mobile computers, peripherals,
and other computer-related products. They work with
customers such as IBM, Toshiba, Hitachi, and NEC to
identify needs and components.
"Being close to the design centers of many customers
permits us to leverage off the technical expertise of
different engineers in different countries," says
Youn. "Japanese engineers, for example, have outstanding
skills in fine-pitch technologies."
Youn says the Japanese engineers have the same product-development
schedule, the same review schedule, and the same testing
procedures as engineers in the company's design centers
in Singapore and the U.S.
And, like other engineers in the Land of the Rising
Sun, they share information liberally. But they take
that cooperation a giant step further: Quarterly, the
Japanese and Singaporean design engineers go to the
U.S. for engineering reviews where they exchange ideas
and learn from each other.
Products to watch
Here is a list of the latest
products from some of the major manufacturers doing
design in Japan:
Dual CPU PLC
Aromat Corp.'s new NAiS brand FP10SH PLC compresses
frequently used instructions into fixed-length form
and employs a five-stage pipeline RISC processor to
execute a sequence instruction at 0.4 msec. It enables
five instructions to be executed simultaneously. Aromat
says it is four times faster than its precedessor, and
3 to 10 times faster than other PLCs.
(E) 629 Central Ave.
New Providence, NJ 07934
FAX (908) 771-5658.
'Tough steel' bearings
NSK's patented "tough steel" ball and roller
bearings are designed for long life, especially in harsh
environments where bearing lubricants become contaminated
with abrasives. The company says these bearings outlast
standard bearing steel by as much as 10 times in those
(P) 3861 Research Park Drive, Box 1507
Ann Arbor, MI 48106
FAX (313) 668-7888.
NMB's precision mechanical assemblies are designed
for several markets. NMB's largest bearing is one-inch
outside diameter, while the smallest is 0.1181 inch.
The integral bearings are for computer hard disc drives,
computer tape drives and camcorders, among other applications.
(P) 9730 Independence Ave.
Chatsworth, CA 91311
FAX (818) 709-0387.
NTN Bearing Corp.'s AS (Advanced Super-Performance)
bearing series are the company's most durable. The series'
TAB, ETA, and EA bearings are especially effective in
applications where the lubricant contains hard particles