Premium Talk: What is Monozukuri (making of things) in the Age of Globalization?

Dialogue: "What is Monozukuri (making of things) in the Age of Globalization?" Part 1

  • Prof. Takahiro Fujimoto, Research Council, WASEDA University
  • Masato Nakao, Representative Director, Chairman of the Board & Chief Executive Officer, i-PRO Co.,Ltd.

Professor Takahiro Fujimoto, former Director of the Manufacturing Management Research Center at the University of Tokyo and a member of the Waseda University Research Institute, was invited to join i-PRO Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Masato Nakao in a discussion on the theme "What is Monozukuri (making of things) in the age of globalization?" with moderator Maoko Kotani. We will present a video of the discussion in three parts. Here is the first part.


A text version of this video is also available.

Professor Fujimoto of Waseda University, a leading expert in manufacturing research, got off in the rain.

The purpose of the visit was to observe the state-of-the-art module camera production facility under construction by i-PRO.


Professor Takahiro Fujimoto, Research Faculty, Waseda University (Fujimoto) "Is this one of those modular cameras?"

Masato Nakao, Chairman and CEO, i-PRO Co.,Ltd. (Nakao) "Modular camera, same thing."


Professor Fujimoto is guided by Masato Nakao, Chairman and CEO of i-PRO .

i-PRO's goal "to speedily manufacture cameras customized to each customer's needs, one at a time."

We took a look around the production site where this is realized.


Fujimoto "You'll ship 10,000 to the customer who wants 10,000, and one to the customer who wants one each..."

Nakao "Exactly"


What is Professor Fujimoto's assessment after more than 30 years of observing production sites?


Fujimoto "The chairman said, For the time being, we will make a dash for the start, which is a very logical and easy-to-understand direction (for the production system). I think that starting from the hand is the "high road".


For the first time, a management professional who takes on the challenge of creating world-beating products and an expert in manufacturing research discusses about... 

What is Monozukuri in the Age of Globalization? 


Maoko Kotani, Moderator Today, we will hear from Mr. Nakao, i-PRO Chairman and Professor Fujimoto, a Waseda University research institute who is a leading expert in manufacturing research. I am sure that the contents will be filled with hints for future monozukuri (making of things), but I heard that you have visited more than 1,000 places such as factories.

Fujimoto I am sure that I have been there. I visit about once a week, so I must have visited 1,000 or 2,000 times, both in Japan and abroad.

Kotani The professor said that he have seen it 1,000 times now.

Nakao I was very nervous, to say the least, to have a truly expert professor look at our factory this time. I was very scared of what kind of evaluation he would make.

Fujimoto No, I just enjoyed it.

Nakao Usually, the comments we receive from visitors after showing the factory are overwhelmingly not what we intended. It is rather rare for the most of them to correctly understand what we are trying to achieve. However, when you came to our factory this time, you were able to completely understand what I was trying to do just by taking a quick tour of the factory. Really.

Kotani What do you mean when you say?

Nakao Even factories have various intentions, such as "to be the best in terms of cost," or "to gain overwhelming scale through mass production. Among them, our factory is a "factory that competes on time," producing what customers want, when they want it, and as much as they want it in a timely manner.

Kotani What did you notice when you stepped into the factory?

Fujimoto I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Taichi Ohno (former Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation who systematized the "Toyota Production System") in July 1984, which is more than 30 years ago. Since then, I have been a great fan of Mr. Ohno's work. Mr. Ohno said, "Just create a flow, create a flow of added value". In short, creating a flow means speedy flow of goods, and he told me to "think about that first". Once "a good flow" is established, quality and cost will follow. He said, "Don't start with cost. If you start with cost, quality will be neglected, delivery time will be prolonged, and unnecessary things will happen". I understand that "good flow of good design" is one of the watchwords of Monozukuri Management Science. The design concept is called architecture, and I see that Mr. Nakao is thinking in terms of a different architecture (from cost priority).


Architectural Strategy

In order to win in manufacturing, it is important to understand the "architectural strategy" of the design concept.


Fujimoto It is a kind of design sense, isn't it? If you have a sense of design, you can formulate architectural strategies and at the same time, you can create on-site flow. Basically, I have never seen a company that has a good on-site flow and architectural strategy that is losing. When I go there (to i-PRO sites), the young staffs have a different attitude of "let's create a flow". There are very good young staffs I met. I love factories with a good flow, regardless of the size of the company.


Nakao is working on a management reform of i-PRO, which has become independent from Panasonic in 2019.

He is working hard to take the lead in the world of security cameras.


Kotani I am sure that Mr. Nakao is full of various ideas for how to improve manufacturing management. I think that Mr. Nakao's own person, Mr. Saegusa of MISUMI, is a person whom you cannot forget even if you wanted to.

Nakao In layman's terms, he was a "master," and a strict one at that. He was strict.


Tadashi Saegusa is the honorary chairman of MISUMI Group.

He is a legendary manager who transformed a small parts wholesaler into a world-class company with annual sales exceeding 300 billion yen in a short period of time.

When Nakao was 40 years old, he studied management under Mr. Saegusa, who was committed to reform.


Nakao It was not the first time I was praised.

Kotani No praise?

Nakao 99% reprimand. But when he give me 1% appreciation, it's called gratitude. He is good at giving that 1% praise.

Kotani What kind of praise does he give?

Nakao At the end, he said, "That was a job well done".

Kotani Ninety percent of the time it's tough, but the last word is the only thing that saves my day.

Nakao Yes. So that's what we were trained to do.

Kotani Mr. Fujimoto, how do you also see Mr. Saegusa's management skills at MISUMI?

Fujimoto There are several companies in the world with good design sense, but this is a company that has been doing architectural reform, or rather architectural innovation, from the very beginning. It is a great thing.

Nakao Yes, it is.

Kotani Is Mr. Nakao inheriting that DNA?

Fujimoto Sure.

Nakao It was Mr. Taguchi, the president before Mr. Saegusa, who created the prototype (of MISUMI's architectural innovation). It was Mr. Saegusa who systematized and developed it.

Kotani In the area of monozukuri, is there anything that you have learned from Mr. Saegusa that has become ingrained in your mind?

Nakao He's very detailed.

Kotani Is he?

Nakao Yes. When I was posted to Shanghai, we built a distribution center there. In the distribution center, there was a shelf for parts that was 45 centimeters deep. The depth of the boxes of parts to be placed on the shelves was 38 cm or 39 cm, in other words, there was a waste of 6 cm or 7 cm. This was really pointed out to me.

Kotani Is that what you call wasteful?

Nakao That's right. Because you have a 45-centimeter-deep shelf with a 39-centimeter-deep box, so there is a difference of about 5 centimeters. If there were dozens of rows of these, how many meters do you think would be wasted for this amount of space?

Kotani Oh, that's what you mean.

Fujimoto You're paying rent.

Nakao Right. We couldn't rebuild the shelves, so we rebuilt the box. It was a lesson for me that I had to be that particular.


Nakao and Saegusa have been working together to build a completely different business model, from the time-consuming process of creating parts from design drawings for every order until then.


Kotani What kind of reforms did you two make together?

Nakao He was the president, and I was appointed as the general manager of the Mold Division. I made and sold mold parts, in layman's terms, that is what I did. For example, a customer said, "I need a metal part like this". One customer said the diameter of the part was 20 mm, another said it was 15 mm. The length is 38 mm, 45 mm, and so on. What material, hardness, surface treatment, and so on. Normally, the customer places an order based on these drawings. However, to a certain extent, we make semi-finished products in advance. If we have several types of semi-finished products, and if we have this many different types of products, we can quickly finish and deliver any order that comes in. Semi-finished products are made as cheaply as possible in mass production and planned production, and we do that and deliver them quickly from one piece to the next.


Preparing parts made to a certain degree as semi-finished products, and when an order comes in, they make them all at once according to the order. When an order comes in, they make the parts at once according to the order.

This innovative method has made it possible to supply parts quickly and inexpensively.


Nakao Not only this, but also the sales method: instead of salespeople going to customers and taking orders by saying, "How do you like it, how do you like it?". Instead, they changed it to a catalog format, where orders are placed by catalog part number, rather than by drawing. Then you could get orders by fax. That dramatically reduced the cost of orders.

Fujimoto When I said, "Give me th parts with the number," they would come. That is exactly the kind of "stage" they have created. Everyone trades on that stage. "Platforms" are all the rage nowadays, but MISUMI created a platform decades ago. The first generation of Mr. Taguchi took lead changing the design concept to an optimal one, and Mr. Saegusa have been working along the same lines for a long time, and only recently have they finally completed the rationalization of everything. This is great.

Nakao I really still admire him. That was the reason I am the person I am today. It was tough. I spent every weekend with a sinking feeling. But it was because of that, I am here now. So I am really grateful.

"What is Monozukuri in the Age of Globalization?" The dialogue part 2 is available here

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