Trade with the far east

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John F
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Joined: Mon Mar 26, 2007 4:41 am
Location: New York, NY

Trade with the far east

Post by John F » Mon Jan 30, 2017 9:42 am

While the know-nothing our compatriots elected is trying to kill off free foreign trade, I've learned something I never would have suspected by watching a program called Japan Railway Journal, which I've mentioned here. This episode was about the prosaic topic of manufacturing rails and wheels for trains. Here it is:

It turns out that we Americans are importing these products from Japan for routes ranging from long haul heavy freight trains across the country to the New York Subway. American companies make these products too, and I suppose sell many of them; yet some transportation systems spend the extra money and deal with the complications of import to use Japanese rails and wheels instead.

Why? First, the Japanese make better steel than we do - harder, more durable. This has partly to do with the chemistry of converting iron to steel - the Japanese company put years and millions of yen into research and development to improve this basic material. Also with how the products are made - casting steel, pouring it into a mold, is quicker and cheaper than forging it, hammering it into shape, but the Japanese (like Siegfried making his invincible sword) forge their wheels. It even makes a difference how the steel is cooled once it has been shaped; cooling the hot steel in air makes it stronger than plunging it into water. (Siegfried didn't know that.) All these are proprietary processes, the TV crew was not permitted to film the whole process.

The result: Japanese wheels and rails last about twice as long as the American products before they need to be replaced. They also cost more, but the higher initial cost is more than repaid in savings not only in buying about half as many rails and wheels but in the labor of putting them into place. The greater durability also makes for greater safety - a Japanese wheel on the A train will last much longer before wear and tear make it potentially dangerous and needing replacement. The American market is so large that the Japanese company that makes wheels has an American affiliate using its process.

(Japan is of course much smaller geographically, travel distances are shorter, so passenger rail travel is more important there than here - commuter railways apart. But since rail travel is far more eco-friendly than flying and trucking, especially electrically powered rail, the balance may shift back toward rail transport.)

The lessons to be learned from this one example are too obvious to need spelling out. But the idiots now in the seats of power in Washington don't get it. If the idiot-in-chief had been in the business of providing essential goods and services, instead of hospitality and recreation, he might... but no, that skull is too thick.
John Francis

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Joined: Fri Sep 10, 2004 5:23 pm

Re: Trade with the far east

Post by Modernistfan » Mon Jan 30, 2017 4:50 pm

Protectionism does not work, period. We should have learned that lesson from what happened to the American auto industry during the period that Japanese imports were restricted. There were two consequences, neither good for the American automakers. The first is that Toyota, for example, starting importing $50,000 Lexuses instead of $15,000 Corollas. The second is that the American companies fell further and further behind technologically and in the quality and reliability of their products. (I still remember some years ago when I had to fly into Minneapolis and drive to Brainerd, Minnesota for a firm retreat. I had rented a Chevrolet Cavalier with the notoriously bad 2.5-liter "Iron Duke" 4-cylinder engine. Coming back from the retreat and driving to the Minneapolis airport early on a Sunday morning, I was trying to pass a truck on a two-lane road and wondered if I was going to get it up to speed or if I had to call ahead for funeral arrangements. I finally got it up to about 65 and completed the pass, and was thinking that my car at home, an Acura Integra (built by Honda), with a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, but of a much modern and efficient design, would have been doing about 85 at that point.) Unfortunately, the moron now occupying the White House never understood that.

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