Session 1991

Epreuve écrite d'anglais


1        Western companies still expect artificial intelligence and fully computer-integrated manufacture to provide "smart" automated low-labour factories. But Japan sees a greater rote for the human operator.

2        The introduction of automated production into the factory more than ten years ago has not left hundreds of thousands of workers unemployed, as was originally feared, on the contrary - it has become clear that the flexible factory needs human beings - and that robots atone are not enough, writes Barbara Bachtler. Automation surprisingly has created new jobs although they tend to be the most highly-qualified ones.

3        In the 1980s, the maxim was "automate or liquidate". The most successful manufacturing economies, notably Japan, were also those that made the greatest investment in advanced manufacturing technologies. However, it is extremely difficult to unravel cause from effect in such cases, and more firms are becoming more and more sceptical of the benefits of those technologies.

4        In the US many companies tossed millions of dollars' worth of fancy equipment into their factories and wound up with little to show for it. [In the UK the use of robots and flexible manufacturing systems has been restricted and these technologies are "now accepted as being hard to integrate and even more difficult to cost justify", as the magazine Industrial Comcuting has put it recently. Companies like General Motors in the US installed thousands of the latest robots and machine vision systems during the 1980s but failed to match Japanese competitors in terms of productivity or quality. Nevertheless most manufacturers have not rejected advanced technologies but believe that robots, flexible manufacturing systems, and other "islands of automation" are simply not enough. Major American and European companies are banking on the next. generation of technology to provide the answers in the 1990s: "smart" factories based on developments in artificial intelligence and fully computer-integrated manufacture (CIM).

5        While users of advanced technologies in the West have been preoccupied with reducing costs and improving quality, Japanese manufacturers have been busy increasing their flexibility.] They are now beginning to achieve flexible, but efficient production based on the extensive application of relatively simple programmable automation. More product variants are produced per plant and product life cycles are much shorter than in the US or Europe, despite the use of less sophisticated technology.

6        In most cases manufacturers in the West have adopted advanced manufacturing technologies in an effort to overcome organizational shortcomings. For example, many western companies have introduced sophisticated vision and laser systems to detect faulty products rather than introduce total quality management in order to prevent the production of such faults in the first place. But this strategy is unlikely to succeed if organizational context has such a profound effect on the successful implementation ofsuch technologies. Users must first tackle organizational problems. Japanese manufacturers have achieved such high levels of productivity and quality through the widespread adoption of total quality management, just-in-time production techniques, and so called "lean" production systems as John Krafcik and John Paul MacDuffie front the Massachusetts institute of Technology (MIT, Cambridge, USA) have just recently pointed out.

7        American and European manufacturers are banking on computer integrated "smart" factories to achieve Japanese levels of productivity and quality, but may find themselves ill-equipped to compete with low cost flexible production. The competitiveness of advanced manufacturing technologies will ultimately depend on organizational issues and market strategy, rather than smarter technology.

Joe Tidd and Barbara Bachtler
Adapted from Scientific European, October 1990

(1) machine vision systems : système de contrôle electronique visuel

(2) product life cycles : cycle de production active


l - Traduire en Français depuis "In the UK the use of robots and flexible manufacturing systems" jusqu'à "have been busy increasing their flexibility." (10 points)

2 - Analyse how Japanese manufacturers and Western manufacturers have modified their strategies in the face of international competition. (150-200 words) (10 points)

Corrigé de la traduction

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