What new Japan Inc needs in order to succeed

What new Japan Inc needs in order to succeed

JAPAN - At a Hitachi factory in the city named after the company, there is a turbine being assembled for the Senoko Power Station in Singapore.

It is an impressive piece of engineering, precisely machined and made of material strong enough to withstand the enormous pressure and heat from generating millions of kilowatts of power.

I am here with journalists from India and several ASEAN countries, being shown around this sprawling facility, which makes the parts used in thermal and nuclear power stations.

We have been invited by Hitachi to learn more about the company and what it is doing to meet the demands of a fast-changing world.

The factory is spick and span, every tool in place, every place neatly organised, every organisation of work detailed to the last instruction.

The teams of workers speak quietly, four to five at each station, and there is an intensity about the way they go about the task at hand.

When you are assembling a thermal turbine weighing hundreds of tons and designed to rotate thousands of rounds a minute, it is best to give it your undivided attention.

For such a big place, there are surprisingly few workers.

This is obviously no sweatshop but a concentration of highly skilled engineers and technicians.

The next day, we travel 900km to visit a factory at the company's Kasado Works, which makes Japan's famed bullet trains, the Shinkansen.

The product is different but the tight organisation of the shop floor and the attention to detail are the same.

Here, they talk about double-skin aluminium cabins and friction welding, and there is enough capacity to produce 60 car trains a month.

It even has its own dock by the sea so the completed trains can be shipped from the factory to anywhere in the world.

Together, these two facilities represent the Hitachi that no longer wants to be known as the maker of television sets and refrigerators but of trains and power generators, and what it calls "social innovation infrastructure".

I will get to hear a lot more about these three words over the course of this visit as Hitachi wants the world to know that that's how it sees its future.

It's about helping countries improve their transport infrastructure, health-care facilities, urban planning and digital technology - all the big stuff that only a company with heavy engineering capabilities combined with cutting edge IT can deliver.

It's not a business that a copycat workshop in China or Taiwan can replicate using cheap labour, which it could, and did, for TV sets, fridges and even laptops.

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