Friday, 24 January 2014

Monozukuri: Literally mono= 'thing' and zukuri (tsukuru) 'process of making';

A beautiful concept

I have recently had a lovely weekend course making a stool at the Windsor Workshop , done using the same traditional wheelwright techniques used to make Windsor Chairs. It has reminded me of the Japanese concept of Monozukuri, the process of making or creating things. The Windsor Workshop seems to be following monozukuri. The stools we produced were his improved stools in the nature of their design and build.

The literal translation in the title does not convey the real connotation of monozukuri. The word has a more intense meaning; monozukuri is about having a state of mind, the spirit to produce not only excellent products but also to have the ability to constantly improve the production system and its processes.

Professor Takahiro Fujimoto (Manufacturing Management Research Center, University of Tokyo) has defined monozukuri as “the duplication of design data into a material.” or the "art, science and craft of making things." The Japanese Institute for Trade and Organisation (JETRO) describes monozukuri as: ‘having the spirit of producing excellent products and the ability to constantly improve a production system and -process.’

From the linguistic point of view it is interesting to note that the syllabic writing Japanese ( hiragana ) allows a duality of interpretation that extends the semantic sphere of the term. In fact, the first part of "mono" (もの) can find phonetic correspondence with the ideogram 者 (= person) and imply that the 造り zukuri (づくり) includes people and things. To distinguish with accuracy the two possible meanings, the word also came hitozukuri , transliterated from Japanese 人づくり. In this new entry, the first graphical symbol is in fact the character 人 = ひと · hito = person.

Albeit partially, this aspect of indefiniteness and versatility can be traced back to the matrix of Shinto religious culture in Japan. It provides for a fundamental gratitude to every creature and item in creation, which is given special attention. In this sense, it is right to understand that "monozukuri" denotes a philosophy and a "spirit of intent" not closely denoted by the edges, rather a commitment to a specific and limited physical correspondent relationship. It implies a tangential view of each object (material, equipment and systems, components and finished product) which reaches out to "take care" of what you have available . Hence being careful not to waste and also to pursue continuous improvement ( kaizen ) in all daily operations, management and organization. This vision has resulted in industrial management developing methodologies and techniques that aim at efficiency, increasing productivity and quality, reduce costs and, in general, focus on the elimination of waste ( muda ). These were born from the culture of monozukuri management. These systems are universally known of, e.g. the Toyota Production System and "lean thinking" or Lean Six Sigma.

The old British philosophical equivalents to Kaisen and Monozukuri would be around "Waste Not, Want Not" and "If you're going to do something, do it properly." In my professional life Process Improvement is what led me to these concepts and subsequently to their wider philosophical meanings. Now I've had the chance to apply them to a physical 'thing'.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this... I found it very interesting and I'll make sure my daughter (who is studying Japanese) reads it too.