Comparison of current manufacturing capabilities between the U.S. and Japan is summarized in Figure 1.15. In many areas, current U.S. capabilities exceed those of Japan. A notable exception is co-curing technology, where technology went beyond science and became an art, meaning that the skill of a master craftsman is essential for success.

Figure 1.15. Comparison of Current Capabilities

It is clear that Japan's true strength in aerospace composites is not rooted in manufacturing technology but in other factors attributed to the temperament of the Japanese people and their culture. This means that Japanese advanced manufacturing techniques, such as co-curing, can be transferred to the U.S. only if other elements attributed to human factors are also transferred.

Contrary to expectations, no new breakthrough in manufacturing technology was found in Japan. Evolutionary rather than revolutionary improvements will be the trend of the future, and the Japanese are expert in achieving incremental improvements because of their determined thoroughness and respect for detail.

It has been a tradition for Japanese aerospace companies to cooperate with each other on a common topic or project for a number of years. Afterwards, each company develops its own unique fabrication technique. The aircraft industry in Japan is small and supported by the government as is obvious from its heavy reliance on military contracts (75%). There is, however, one notable exception to the Japanese cooperative spirit, and it can be found in the relationship between industry and educational institutions. Japanese industry sees educational institutions as suppliers of well educated, but not necessarily well trained, people instead of as suppliers of knowledge and technology.

The Japanese aerospace companies are aware of the potential market for composites and fully understand that "low cost" is the answer to a widespread usage of composites. They also understand that "low cost" does not come from advanced manufacturing technology alone. They see the term "low cost" from a total life cycle cost point of view -- "womb to tomb." Therefore, they are willing to spend time and money up front in order to reduce production, in-service, and recall costs later on.

The Japanese aerospace companies feel that cooperative effort with the U.S. is necessary for the promotion and expansion of the composites business. Therefore, most companies allow free access to their manufacturing areas and answer most questions candidly. Their willingness to cooperate with the U.S. and other countries is also reflected in MITI's policy for the future. MITI has clearly stated that its funding is available only for international cooperative programs. In other words, Japanese companies would not receive funding from MITI unless they have foreign partners. Cooperation between Japan and the U.S. has already begun with the transfer of Japanese technology to several American companies, notably MHI's sophisticated co-cure technology which was transferred to General Dynamics.

The U.S. and Japan have much to gain from each other. Now that the world is no longer dominated by the two military super powers, the sharing of technology by the two economic super powers (the U.S. and Japan together produce 45% of world GNP) is the formula for preserving the peace, stability, and prosperity of the world.

The economic failure of either country will undoubtedly bring both countries down and will eventually lead to world economic chaos; thus, the responsibility is enormously high for both countries. Accordingly, the U.S. and Japan must develop ways to cooperate.

Published: April 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian