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Internship Report, 7/22/95

Things at Seino are pretty much without change, and I am still working on the same projects. One thing I appreciate about my work is the fact that they are not just giving me "busywork" like I hear a lot of other interns are getting, but that I am actually making a meaningful contribution to the progress of the company. I spend some time researching, some time teaching (because they are entering a new field in which I already have experience), some time programming, and when I need a break from all that I work on an English version of their PR pamphlet.

This weekend we had one seminar and two kengakus. On Friday we had a kengaku and seminar at Gifu Shatai and on Saturday we had a very long kengaku at Daifuku.

Gifu Shatai is an automobile construction plant. As we toured most of the facilities, we were amazed at how automated and streamlined the production process was, and after seeing how everything ran, I was not surprised to learn that this factory was putting out one car every two and a half minutes. We saw everything except the body painting (or else we too would have been painted) on the kengaku. While I was impressed at the facilities, I was not so overly impressed enough to doubt that American factories were just as advanced and efficient, if not more so. The working conditions were good -- obviously safe enough for us to walk among it all -- and the workers seemed happy. However, while the whole process was interesting to watch, I realized that employees who work on just a single part of any process must get extremely bored unless they are allowed to change tasks every once in a while.

The speakers spoke a lot about the difficulty of managing their production around the laws of supply and demand, and they obviously don't have as much demand as they would like since the factory is not yet working on a 24-hour basis. I also noticed that there were a lot of South Americans working there and wondered if they were employed because their labor was cheap. I asked one of the representatives but he denied it.

On Saturday we had an all-day kengaku at Daifuku, a robot manufacturer that specializes in factory and warehouse automation but also supplies logistics products for other applications as well. It was a perfect complement to the previous day's kengaku.

During the speeches we learned a lot about the thought processes that are going on at companies trying to expand into international markets. I learned that Japan's companies, which will probably be forever in "economic survival mode," are extremely aggressive in their efforts to acquire overseas business -- much more aggressive than American companies, particularly because American companies can live without it. Thus, in a metaphorical sense, Americans themselves may be the ones with an "island mentality." Very few Americans care as much as the Japanese do about international issues.