|Machinery Relieves Workers from Backbreaking Drudgery
Taking a Risk for the Benefit of Many
Setting New Sights for Glass Technology
|Machinery Relieves Workers from Backbreaking Drudgery|
|Yosaburo Sugita lived in Osaka in the early 20th century. He joined a trading house to make use of his experience studying in the U.S., where in 1914 he observed a state-of-the-art sheet glass manufacturing plant.
Almost 50 years had passed since Japan opened its doors to the world and started on the road to industrialization, but glass manufacture was still primarily done by hand and the operation was far from efficientespecially in the case of sheet glass, which posed problems because of its size. Japan was still making hand-blown sheet glass by the same method used to make small bottles and drinking glasses; i.e., blowing through a blowpipe.
Glass blowers wrapped red-hot molten glass around a steel blow pipe about 1.5 m long and continually waved it from side to side while breathing heavily into the pipe. The resulting glass cylinder was cut open to form sheet glass. The combined weight of the glass and pipe was around 15 kg. Although some glass blowers were paid more than factory managers, many suffered ill health from the grueling labor, and workers were unwilling to choose such labor.
The mechanized system for continuous production of sheet glass that Sugita observed in the U.S. was a groundbreaking innovation that not only increased production volumes but liberated workers from arduous manual glass-blowing as well. From the very day he first saw it, Sugita resolved to change careers and bring the Colburn Process to the Japanese sheet glass industry.
|Building a Bridge to Make a Dream Come True|
|Back in Japan, Sugita approached companies with which he had close business ties, but could not persuade any of them to import the new technology to Japan. The expansion of domestic sheet glass production had been made a priority by the government, yet at the time private industry regarded it as a massive undertaking with only a remote chance of success.
Reluctant to give up, Sugita hit upon an ingenious plan. His family had traditionally worked at the Sumitomo copper refinery. Sugita was aware not only of Sumitomos commercial success, but also that its business management was based on the principle of undertaking projects to the benefit of humankind. Surely, he reasoned, Sumitomo would understand the importance of the new venture. During a visit to the U.S. by Yoshitaro Yamashita, manager of Sumitomo General Head Office, Sugita arranged a visit to a sheet glass factory that used the Colburn Process, and told Yamashita of his dream to bring the technology to Japan.
Yamashitas response did not disappoint him: We should actively pursue projects for the nations good.