Sources of Machine-Tool Industry Leadership in the 1990s: Overlooked Intrafirm Factors
Through the use of extensive field research and an original international questionnaire, the main sources of the leapfrogging development of the Japanese machine-tool industry in the past 19 years were investigated. Past studies have emphasized the strategic R&D alliance with superlative computerized numerical control (CNC) makers, the extensive use of outsourcing from excellent precision parts' suppliers, and the extraordinary development of automakers. This paper critically considered these factors and verified their inadequacy in explaining the further development of this industry in the 1990s. Hence, attention was paid to the significant roles of "intrafirm factors" such as: (a) the simultaneous and cross-functional information sharing system at an early stage of new product development processes; (b) the positive and early participation of frontline skilled workers in assembly or machining shops; and (c) the existence of highly skilled assemblymen or machinists. The significant roles of these intrafirm factors were robustly validated by the statistical analysis of the questionnaire survey as well as by the results of our field research. The results showed striking similarities between the Japanese and the German machine-tool makers and notable dissimilarities between the two and the US makers.
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