Some Socio-Technological Aspects on Assembly System Designs in Japan and Sweden. A theoretical analysis
Preprint, 2016

This completed and scrutinised article (or preprint not yet finished to due to the author’s retirement) is based on a more the thirty years cooperation with scientists located in Japan (featuring various Japanese financing, joint-venture seminars and other scientific initiatives like co-authoring, research tours in Japan and Sweden visiting various shop-floor operations, etc. But, the article is also bringing forward specific knowledge from the author’s earlier experiences regarding the development of alternatives to assembly line (initiated in 1975), as have been practised by one of his tutors gained before his doctor's degree at the Saab Scania plant in Trollhättan (initiated in 1970). This article has (for a decade) been completed and sent to our Japanese research colleagues as a chapter of a common book project (an anthology), which so far has not been fully completed due to several different reasons.

This article is illuminating the (from the author’s perspective) recent development of so-called lean production (this approach was not existing during the 1970s and 1980s, at least not as the explicit theoretical frame of reference that is at hand nowadays). This with regard to the assembly work as were and partly still are at hand on the Japanese assembly lines. That is, considering the knowledge and experiences briefly hinted being at hand just above (the scientific context described), are the author in this article carrying out a sort of theoretical analyze of group work in the two countries. Thereby it becomes possible to compare, what may here be denoted as, a the most refined Japanese assembly lines (as was and is practiced by e.g. Toyota) with the most advanced unorthodox Swedish alternatives to assembly work (as was practiced earlier by the autonomous workgroups at Saab Scania in their body shop, and later on proved to also be successful in the nowadays defunct Volvo Uddevalla plant more than twenty-five years later). This means that serial and parallel product flows assembly system designs, with very short respectively extensively long work cycle times, are analyzed.

Exploiting the sociotechnical theory, which was applied in e.g. the body shop case, on the Japanese counterpart proves that the two different assembly system designs had certain (important) characteristic (differences and resemblances). These characteristics, in turn, inflicts the efficiency, flexibility and work as well as work condition. Such comparisons are, according to the author’s insight, inventible necessary to grasp for any analyst, then he or she are discussing assembly work in any type of assembly system design (Note, not all plants are not alike. Furthermore, the theoretical frames of references have to be brought forward and also kept constant in order to conduct far more in-depth analyses).

questioning lean production

work organisation

assembly work

alternatives to line assembly

work structuring


Volvo Uddevalla plant

restructuring of information systems


learning and training


long work cycle times

autonomous workgroups

lean production

manufacturing technology


Tomas Engström

Chalmers, Teknikens ekonomi och organisation, Supply and Operations Management


Annan teknik

Övrig annan teknik

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