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1.4 Mass Production: An Element of Civilization

In the history of technology, one of the most significant changes in how production took place occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century. Mass production was a breakthrough. Generally speaking, in the economic history of the world, the industrial revolution is considered to be epoch-making. In fact, the development of the steam engine did not impact production processes. The steam engine was employed to provide power for factories in the late nineteenth century, i.e., a century after the dawn of the industrial revolution.

What was the industrial revolution? Where does the significance of the invention of the steam engine and the creation of the engine as an element of civilization lie? There is no doubt that it was a major breakthrough when both internal and external combustion engines powered by fossil fuels began to be used. But it is not correct that major breakthroughs would be immediately applied to production.

The steam engine was initially developed for use in mines as draining pumps. When mines are bored, underground water seeps in. It is impossible to continue mining without draining this water. The cooling of the climate in the eighteenth century sharpened the need to mine for coal. Especially in England, deforestation meant that wood could no longer be used for coal. Due to a lack of other fuels, there was no other option but to mine for coal, which produced soot when burned and was difficult to handle.

The steam engine was developed in response to compelling nature of the need. When Watt successfully made the steam engine practical, the scope of its application broadened rapidly. However, it was seldom used in industrial applications because factories did not need power sources as large as the steam engine. There were few sectors which needed always-on power. The steam engine was not an accessible power source when factories only used it occasionally to power machines. Continuous production was rare, except for in the textile industry. Spinning and weaving mills continuously operated multiple machines, but there were few other industries operating under such conditions.

In general, factories at that time were waterwheel driven. The efficiency of motor power was improved as the turbine waterwheel was developed, while steam engines on the other hand were costly and unnecessary for factories engaged in processes that used machines as a secondary measure on an off and on basis.

How was the steam engine used? It was used for transportation, primarily, in ships and locomotives. The development of mass transportation dramatically changed societies. The laying of rail began before the development of the steam engine, because transportation by wagon on rail was known to improve transportation efficiency. In Europe, inland water transportation was developed on large rivers, which were networked to build waterways. The downside was that wind power was not sufficient as a power source on inland waterways. Without exceptionally favorable wind conditions, stable transportation was impossible, and accordingly, ships were operated by humans or animals. Under such circumstances the steam engine was thus made practical.

The effect was significant and ensured the availability of mass transportation. This means that things previously excluded from trading could now become merchandise. Supplies that were previously too heavy to transport became transportable. Two examples are food and fuel. Grains had previously been too heavy to transport in bulk, but the steam engine enabled transportation of such grains from far away. Coal, which was also not transportable due to its weight, could now be moved from the point of extract to other locales; thus areas that could be inhabited by human beings were expanded. This meant that abandoned outland areas that were difficult to cultivate could be reused by different industries, which stimulated the entire society. The increase in business opportunities impacted the society and better reflected the reality of the industrial revolution.

In fact, Japan experienced much the same process. In the early seventeenth century, sailing channels were developed around the entire nation. This enabled mass transportation, and as a result, rice began to be transported as merchandise. The entire country became one market, and a rice trading exchange was established in Osaka. This stimulated the society, and as the result, the economy grew and the population increased. When mass transportation was realized, there was a significant impact across civilizations.

Mass transportation started in the middle of nineteenth century followed by the new production form, mass production, which began at the dawn of the twentieth century. With this method of production, products are produced with interchangeable parts. This is known as the knockdown production method, in which previously manufactured parts are assembled. There is no argument that assembling premade parts and components is more efficient than making each part individually. This production method is commonplace today. Given the accuracy of processing machines at that time, it was difficult to assemble premade parts and components. Accuracy made it difficult to combine and fit premade bolts and nuts and determine which bolts and nuts were selected. Thus it was necessary to cut out the nut for each bolt.

In addition to the accuracy of machines used, to manufacture products with stable quality, it was also necessary to present a goal to standardize manufacturing processes. There was various discourse about the launch of the mass production method. Many people insist that the mass production method had already been developed before Ford implemented the movable assembly line (conveyor belt) at the Highland Park Factory. The majority of such discourse refers to how at the time the idea of manufacturing and storing inter-transferable parts beforehand defied common sense at that time.

Manufacturing under the mass production method made proficiency in most traditional skills in pre-mass production obsolete. Involvement by workers was limited to a quite simplified range, and disparities among individual workers became small. This is another characteristic of the mass production method, wherein processing per person is extremely short. The tasks one worker can do while the conveyor belt is stopped are extremely limited to simple processes, such as tightening a few bolts or placing an engine in a certain place. Such a limited range of tasks requires little proficiency and produces the same results regardless of who does the work. When conveyor belt production is considered as a civilization element, it is expected that it will cause the same effect among all civilizations.

Mass production produces an overwhelming volume of products in comparison with previous production methods. Many corporations tried to introduce this method, and mass production was a principle to assure successful business operation. The principle was interpreted as standardization, and nonmanufacturing industries attempted comprehensive standardization as much as possible. For example, the distribution sector standardized products and to some extent produced favorable results.

Success in mass production popularized the understanding that business operations are divided into pre-mass production and post-mass production stages. The overall concept of work, how to proceed with tasks, and organizational structure did not change significantly, and there were more than a few common areas in preand post-mass production. Furthermore, the system is identical but it is not assured that operation is as well. Business administration has shifted gears and made little of pre-mass production.

Mass production also changed labor practices. Line workers are not allowed to work at their own pace but instead have to work at the speed at which the conveyor belt moves. They are also not allowed to change procedures. Cooperation of labor is automated by the system and as the result, eliminates mutual adjustment of tasks and communication among workers. The entire factory works at one unified time flow, which causes synchronization. Modern factories are characterized by restraining employees to a certain time and space, and therefore, the conveyor belt is considered to be an extreme example. Labor conditions in which workers could not control their own time did not exist until the rise of mass production, which sparked a backlash among employees laboring under such previously unknown extreme conditions.

Their discretion is removed from the work: They do simple tasks and no feedback is returned about their performance. This situation is referred to as monotonous labor. As mass production made monotonous labor inevitable, addressing it was considered to be a primary subject of business administration in the 1950s and 1960s. Each enterprise addressed the issue of monotonous labor differently, and there were disparities in how to connect existing labor practices.

The solution to recover cooperation of labor in the USA was to redesign labor (referred to as quality of working life, or QWL), while in Europe, it was the sociotechnical systems theory. In the meantime, in Japan, companies addressed the issue with a quality control (QC) circle where feedback was given and group sessions were held to improve work. As described above, the inevitability of and solutions to accept mass production as a civilization element differed. Therefore, the anthropology of work was proposed as an academic field to discuss this matter. As an academic field, it is adjacent to the anthropology of business administration (see Chaps. 12 and 13 of this book).

As for white-collar organizations, in his bureaucracy theory, Max Weber discussed the idea that a bureaucracy reasonably designed as an organization form is an element of civilization and is an efficient organization common to every civilization; therefore, if it had not been accepted, modernization would have been impossible. On the other hand, Robert K. Merton refuted the concept that the intention of the system would become incompatible with the actions of its members and that as the result the bureaucracy would be dysfunctional (Merton 1949). The institutional civilization elements include the simple issue of whether to accept them, as well as the issue of how to connect them to existing behavioral patterns.

International comparisons between bureaucracies have accumulated considerably, including a study by Crozier (1964) to compare US and French bureaucracies, research on organizational forms by the Industrial Administration Research Unit of the Birmingham College of Advanced Technology (the Aston Group) (Pugh and Hickson 1976; Lammers and Hickson 1979), and the comparison of intention by Hofstede (1991). Overall, bureaucracies differ among individual societies. Rational design is not sufficient to make the details the same, and they differ in terms of the operation levels. It is often observed that a strong belief in the appropriateness of rational design forced other societies to adopt such differences. When effective administrative practices in one country are imported to another country, they sometimes cause trouble. In that light, comparison of them is a critical matter.

In addition, operations of enterprise systems include specific organizational operations and are influenced by existing cultures. Labor systems and practices cause disparities, where unique rituals are developed.

As discussed above, existing cultural differences influence operations of the organization. In addition, individual companies have considerable discretion in how they operate. Therefore, it is necessary to study management philosophies as policies that govern the operation of the company (Chap. 7). Companies also develop their own unique symbolic systems (Chap. 3) and sublime them to a corporate mythology.

 
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