Takt time – Transfer from Germany to Japan in World War II

In Americanization and its Limits, p. 325, the sentence “In February and March 1942, visiting engineers from the German firm Junkers lectured to Japanese aircraft engineers on high-volume manufacture of fuselages and engines.” made me wonder how, in the middle of the war, engineers just “visited” from Germany. It’s not as if you could then hop on a plane in Berlin and land a few hours later in Tokyo.

According to Wikipedia, until Germany invaded Russia in June, 1941, Japanese and Germans visited each other by riding the Transsiberian railway, from Moscow to Vladivostok, which took a few weeks. After that, the only way to travel was by blockade-running submarines, and only six such trips occurred, carrying in total 96 people from Germany to Japan, and 89 in the other direction.

According to the 1946 US Air Force report on the Japanese aircraft industry, passage of materials by rail stopped after Germany attacked Russia, but passage of personnel continued. This is surprising, and it is difficult to imagine how Germans could have allowed to travel that road, but Japan was not at war with Russia until August, 1945. It had a neutrality pact with the Soviet Union, which must have allowed Japanese citizens to travel to Moscow under diplomatic cover, and then on to Germany through a neutral country like Sweden or Turkey.

Ernst Udet visited Japan, its air force and its aircraft industry in 1939. Early in 1941,  the train was still available  and General Yamashita — future “tiger of Malaya” hanged as a war criminal in 1946 — spent several months in Berlin. He brought back 250 aircraft technicians, engineers, and flight instructors. Given the timing and arithmetic, there is no way the vast majority of these 250 could have returned to Germany before the war ended.

The people who visited Mitsubishi aircraft must have been from that group, and must have been available for more than a lecture. My guess is that they stuck around to help Mitsubishi implement their Taktsystem. These people’s direct knowledge of the Junkers system is also as of 1941, before forced labor.

The JMA (Japan Management Association) currently is a large consulting firm in Japan. Shigeo Shingo worked there, and it is also where Nakajima coined the term TPM. The JMA already existed during the war, and, after the war, was instrumental in propagating techniques from aircraft manufacturing to other industries.

According to the same source, “Even in the early 1960s, the Japanese market for cars remained small and assemblers wanted to produce a variety of cars. The companies preferred to accommodate many types of cars on a single line, and consequently emphasized the need to equalize the cycle times of all production processes. This was rather similar to the situation at aircraft companies during the war…”

3 comments on “Takt time – Transfer from Germany to Japan in World War II

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