The Manga Style In The Japanese Literature On Manufacturing

A unique characteristic of the Japanese literature on manufacturing is its use of comic strips — or manga — to communicate with readers. The subject came up in a recent discussion on LinkedIn, that Mark DeLuzio started by saying:

“Toyota has been given credit for making the complex simple. Some say that this is the definition of genius. I think that the Lean consulting industry, in their attempt to help others follow Toyota’s footsteps, has in many cases done the opposite. We have made the simple very complex.”

My comment was that, while expressed in jargon, most of what goes as “Lean” in the US is simplistic. I contrast it with what I found in Japan, like the Kojo Kanri (工場管理, or “Factory Management”) monthly. It is full of case studies communicated in manga, on subjects ranging from the strategic to the tactical. Stories I remember include a recap of a multi-year transformation in a chemical plant, design guidelines for chaku-chaku lines and improvements to toilet cleaning procedures in high-speed trains. The October 2019 issue has a series of articles about employing immigrants to remedy the labor shortage in Japan.

Why manga?

Brad Schmidt once told me that, if you submitted an article to Kojo Kanri with neat technical drawings, the house artists would transform them into manga. I think it is because the target audience is production supervisors who read in commuter trains. At work,  they need to communicate with production operators, who are also likely manga readers. In the US, I don’t recall seeing improvement cases explained in the style of Marvel comics. Perhaps it is because these improvements require no magic powers.


Reagan Pannell then asked for examples. I was on the road, and the best I could do was direct him to the cover of a special issue from 2014. Amazon offers it as “thoroughness made easy,” by Sadao Okada. I am not sure why they use pigs as a metaphor for thorough humans. In this blog, I have used illustrations from Kojo Kanri on occasion, for example in What To Expect From Lean Manufacturing Consultants.

For a more extensive example, I turned to the most dog-eared and annotated of my Japanese books. It’s about practical mixed-flow production systems and I found it a gold mine, as you can tell from this picture:

In the figure below, I translated the captions on the page about a tool called “AB Control.” It reminds of the “after-you” systems you see in some airports, where the conveyor delivering luggage waits until there is open space on the carousel. In the picture, the coiled cables from the sensors to the controllers are so 1991. Today, this might be a simple IoT application with a PLC, with the same logic.

#Manufacturing, #Manga, #LeanManufacturing, #Kaizen