Alps Electric’s Activities to Connect Monozukuri to the Future

With many claiming that Japan’s future as a manufacturing nation is in jeopardy, Alps Electric continues to think about its own future as a company that has monozukuri at the heart of its business.

The corporate message of Alps Electric is “perfecting the art of electronics.” Although electronic parts normally go unseen in people’s day-to-day lives, Alps Electric pursues the “art” of electronics because of the inherent appeal that monozukuri holds for us. That appeal is what actually drives us — it is something that can be experienced and felt.

At Alps Electric, we are trying not only to communicate the allure of monozukuri internally and externally; we are also trying to disseminate monozukuri engineering itself.

On this occasion we would like to introduce to our readers the efforts Alps Electric is making for the future of monozukuri.

Enjoyment of Making Things
Efforts at Monozukuri Together with Local Communities

Ota Ward, Tokyo is the heart of the Keihin Industrial Area and an area that is home to numerous monozukuri companies. Alps Electric was born in Ota Ward in November 1948 and has since expanded both domestically and internationally to hold many sales and production bases overseas.

Making its hometown into a base of operations, Alps Electric has commenced efforts to have children, who will become the leaders of the future, develop an awareness of the enjoyment of monozukuri.

Ota Monozukuri Science School Opened

Nervous participants during greetings as the school opens; the item to be constructed is a tractor shovel.

Nervous participants during greetings as the school opens;
the item to be constructed is a tractor shovel.

From November 2003, in cooperation with the Ota Ward Board of Education, Alps Electric has held handiwork classes, and they have become known as the Ota Monozukuri Science School and take place mainly on Sundays. As of March 2009, this class has been held 42 times with a total of 743 children participating.

The objective of the school is to create familiarity with monozukuri and to propagate the enjoyment of this activity. Subjects are selected to focus on items that can be built and that are actually operable, including model tractor shovels, electronic radios and gliders. For today’s children, who have grown accustomed to video games, digital toys and other preassembled items or software contents, we believe that assembling and operating something by themselves opens up a new emotional experience.

Construction of items is led and supported by Alps Electric employees and veteran staff. However, the ultimate objective of the school is for participants to make their own efforts to complete construction. Instructors teach the sequence of an operation or offer tips, but it is up to the children to read and comprehend the directions for assembly and actually build an object on their own.


To Know “That’s Why Something Works”

Class with a “motor” theme

Class with a “motor” theme

More than mere construction, the principles of operation are also explained. For example, why a glider flies and how a toothed gear can move a large object are explained in an easy to understand way.

Much of such explanation lies in the world of physics, and perhaps elementary school students will simply say, “This is so difficult.“In this case as well, explaining the principles of an object’s movement will, in the future, when they are learning physics, spark an interest as they can say, “I’ve seen that in the handiwork class I took at Alps Electric while in elementary school!”


A Place Where Children and Parents Can Interact

Together with being a venue where children’s interest in monozukuri is nurtured, this school is also a place where families can interact. Participating children and their families join together in order to share a variety of emotions and experiences.
One of these is introduced here.

Together with employee acting as advisor

Together with employee acting as advisor

One day, a girl participating in the class said, “I don’t like building things, but I joined thinking that because I don't like it, I’ll try to do my best.“The girl silently persevered with the construction, but as expected, she did not enjoy the work, and little by little she fell behind. When her father was called upon to “give her a hand,” he responded: “If I help her now, she’ll become dependant whenever there’s something she cannot do. Today I want her to finish this on her own.”The girl looked emotionally into her father’s eyes, never intending to request his help. It seemed that her comment, “I’ll work hard on it by myself,”, could have been a promise between father and daughter. There are certainly many cases where parents and children come together to work on monozukuri. However, the school seems to be a place where monozukuri is a catalyst to experience the keeping of promises and to overcome difficulties.

In the end, the girl completed the tractor shovel on her own. When a photo was taken to commemorate participation in the school, the girl looked downcast and in a small voice mumbled the words, “I’m happy.”With great care she held the tractor shovel she had made by herself, and when she cracked a smile we saw in her a small glimmer of emerging confidence.

Monozukuri. At first, it might seem to be an impossible activity for anyone, and there is always inherent anxiety at the possibility of failure. However, when something is completed, this changes to happiness many times greater than the original anxiety. This might be the same for children, parents, and even the engineers who work for Alps Electric.

Spreading Monozukuri Where Our Operations Are Firmly Rooted
To Every Region, to the World

With its hometown in Ota Ward, Alps Electric is now expanding its bases for monozukuri to Miyagi, Fukushima and Niigata prefectures, as well as to locations around the world. At respective monozukuri bases from Tokyo to regions across Japan and even throughout the world, Alps Electric endeavors to pass on the enjoyment of monozukuri to the next generation.

In addition to providing its handiwork class to elementary and middle school students at each domestic base in Japan, we are making efforts to spread an understanding of “making things,” along with the awareness that we are a company that makes things. We do this through a variety of activities, including plant tours and the chance to experience an on-site working environment.


Support of Those Who Aim for Monozukuri

Technical Master Training Center at the Kitahara Plant in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture

Technical Master Training Center at the Kitahara
Plant in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture

As a venue for learning and passing down skills within the Company, in 1998, Alps Electric established the Technical Master Training Center in Osaki City, Miyagi Prefecture. Since then, the center has been utilized as a training site for Japan-based employees, as well as employees from overseas and members of domestic partner companies based in the Iwate Prefecture area. This training institute mainly offers molding-related training, which is an essential part of Alps Electric’s monozukuri. As of March 2009, 3,400 people had completed training here.

One of the characteristics of the training program offered at the Technical Master Training Center is that the trainees are the ones who produce the training textbook. The very fact that this textbook is to become the standard material for course study is what enables a higher degree of review and completion. Furthermore, because trainees make their own textbook by themselves, it is believed that they will be able to take action when faced with issues that could arise in practical areas in the future. In this way, the textbook that has been created has, through the advice of instructors at the Technical Master Training Center, continued to be upgraded.

In September 2007, Alps Electric presented this continuously evolving training textbook for molding to Iwate University’s Graduate School of Engineering. This follows the March 2004 framework agreement between Alps Electric and Iwate University concluded to promote academic research and utilize the results of research for society. This was conducted through collaboration between industry and academic fields and supported by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. In addition, Alps Electric jointly participated in the “multilayered industry human resources development business for innovative monozukuri companies,” a human resources development project carried out over three years of participation between 2005 and 2007. From this relationship, with the aim of increasing the practical workability of the educational program at its graduate school, Iwate University sought permission to use the Alps Electric-developed training textbook for molding as a lecture course textbook. Alps Electric readily agreed with this idea and presented the textbook copies.

Alps Electric’s monozukuri is not just for Company engineers in Japan and overseas. It is our hope that it serves a useful purpose for the many people in the next generation throughout the world who will work to achieve monozukuri.