TOKYO -- For Japanese manufacturers rushing to expand their business in emerging Asian countries, success depends on how well they can pass their technological know-how developed in Japan onto trainees and workers from those countries.
Now, more Japanese firms are striving to establish Japanese-style, value-added manufacturing methods in emerging Asian markets to survive intensifying competition.
Earlier this month, two technical support staffers of specialty construction machinery maker Okada Aiyon flew to India. As a local unit of Kobelco Construction Machinery has started handling Okada Aiyon's breakers and crushers in February, the two came to give technical instructions to a group of about 40 employees of local sales agents in Chennai, southeastern India.
The Osaka-based company makes hydraulic breakers, crushers and cutters that are used to demolish buildings. To cut hard-built structures made of concrete and other materials, "more than 1,000 tons of pressure is put on machines' blade edges," said Iwao Okamoto, an official of Okada Aiyon.
Blade edges could easily break off with imperfect welding, which could result in complaints from customers. "Welders work in T-shirts and jeans and wear sandals" in India, Okamoto said. Therefore, the company is trying to ensure the high standards of educational training and product quality in India, beginning with the basics.
In addition, Okada Aiyon is stepping up efforts to accept more personnel from Southeast Asia and other regions. It plans to open a training facility in its Asaka factory in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, in fiscal 2016 in order to accommodate more trainees from overseas sales agents. Even now, the company hosts about 10 groups of such apprentices a year, but it aims to triple that number to around 30 groups a year by 2016.
Using Japanese training system
Meanwhile, heavy machinery and engineering firm Hitachi Zosen is using its domestic personnel development system to transfer technology and know-how to its workers overseas. In 2011, the company created a system at its machinery and infrastructure headquarters in which experienced engineers tutor young workers one-on-one over the course of a year. The aim is, the company said, to nurture young engineers so that they can teach others by themselves. This system has produced a total of more than 100 employees who have undergone this training over the past three years.
Since 2012, these trained young staffers have gone to "give instructions to our venture partners in India and China," said Masaki Mikata, senior manager of the company's administration department. By doing so, the company can achieve business expansion through technology transfer while giving its young Japanese engineers a chance to gain the necessary overseas experience.
Indeed, Hitachi Zosen is ramping up production of pressure vessels used in chemical plants in India. Pressure vessels require welding precision down to the millimeter. Therefore, the company will send mainly young engineers overseas to provide more technical guidance in hopes of offering a stable supply of its products.
A similar trend can be seen in the metal-processing industry. In 2007, Nakano Manufacturing, based in Osaka, began hiring Vietnamese engineering students as full-time, regular employees. Until then, the company had accepted foreign trainees through the government's technical intern training program -- a scheme for providing training in technical skills, technology and know-how to interns from developing countries. But there were limits; the company was allowed to accept such interns for only up to three years and could teach them only simple technological skills.
Nakano Manufacturing has so far hired seven Vietnamese as full-time staffers who have been trained in the required technical expertise by seasoned engineers. They have grown to be on-site supervisors now. In May, the company will open a new factory in the suburb of southern Ho Chi Minh City and put two Vietnamese employees in charge of local operations.