Friday, Feb 15, 2019
Industry & Trade | Asia-Pacific | Japan

Shinkawa Electric, Japan

Helping to keep plants running safely and smoothly

8 months ago

Shinkawa Electric Co.
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Fumito Shinkawa

President of Shinkawa Electric Co.

The Worldfolio speaks to Fumito Shinkawa, President of Shinkawa Electric Co., a Japanese company specialising in vibration monitoring for the power, oil and gas, automotive and railway industries.


In recent months, the Japan has been hit by scandals involving Kobe Steel and Mitsubishi Material who have allegedly engaged into data-falsification. For a country that brands itself as “a provider of quality,” these incidents have damaged the reputation of Japan. As a manufacturer, what is your opinion on the Kobe Steel and Mitsuibishi scandals?

Personally, I was absolutely stunned when I heard the news about the Kobe Steel scandal. Here in Japan, we are recognised worldwide for our quality and our reliability. After this scandal, the first thing I did was to tell all my staff that we, as a Japanese company, need to make sure that nothing like this ever happens with us. Our company has obtained ISO-9001 certification, and we operate according to the procedures that are stipulated within these standards. It is obviously very important to abide by these rules to maintain quality, but the most important thing is the people. Here at Shinkawa, we manufacture small quantities of various products. Therefore, machines are of course important, but without the employees, nothing is possible. The staff members are the ones that monitor everything, and maintain the standards of quality. Therefore, when we take a look at the entire organisation, we need to find a balance between production, the needs and capabilities of our employees, and the value we are creating for our customers. I personally believe that in the Kobe Steel example, the people were working hard, and sometimes too hard, which lead them to skip some procedures. Balance is essential, and the absence of balance lead to the scandals we have had recently.


Since the rise of Japan’s private sector in the post-war period, Japanese Monozukuri has been widely spoken about, but often misunderstood. In recent years, we have seen regional peers copying and replicating the manufacturing processes of Monozukuri at a lower cost. What are the main competitive advantages of Japanese manufacturing compared to its competitors like Chin and Korea?

Korea and China can indeed produce at a lower cost thanks to labour costs which are much cheaper than here in Japan. However, the fact that they can produce good-quality products – even if this is a result of mimicking – deserves some respect. I also believe that countries such as Korea are very strong at marketing, and this also deserves a large amount of respect.

The first thing we need to ask ourselves is: what is Monozukuri? For me, Monozukuri is the ability to produce a unique product. Once again, people are the most important, as it is our employees who create these amazing products daily. We are indeed at a disadvantage when comparing labour costs, but we need to analyse and understand where we can bring value to the customer. Our advantage is that we can grasp the true value to the customer. Sometimes, you can buy something at a low price, and you will be satisfied. However, if you think in the long term, it is always better to buy something that will last longer. As Japanese manufacturers, that is where we differentiate ourselves. In addition, we are continuing to work with researchers to use new and innovative materials in our sensors, which is also an advantage.


Could you please highlight the key milestones of your company?

Our company has many milestones, but all of these are in the past. Personally speaking, the most important is the future. Last November, we celebrated our 90th anniversary, thanks to our customers and our employees. We can always analyse the past, but creating a bright future for my company is the most important thing for me.


What is your vision for the future?

Currently, we have 4 segments: Sensors, Systems, Engineering and other services. However, the world is changing rapidly towards IoT, and therefore I would like our sensors to evolve towards these new technologies, and we have been developing these new technologies such as wireless sensors. We have been working on wireless sensors for decades, and we released our first one more than a decade ago, but at that time they didn’t catch the customer’s attention, as it didn’t match their needs.

However, now we have abundant demand for these technologies. For software, we use our Shinkawa USA subsidiary, as the US is clearly ahead of Japan in these technologies. My vision is to use the ideas and input from our different offices and subsidiaries around the world, leveraging the strengths of each country and producing the best-quality product for our customers. In addition, I have noticed that nowadays, only specialists can analyse data in order to prevent problems and disasters. I would like to use AI in order for regular people to be able to analyse data and detect problems with their machines.


Many experts claim that Big Data, and particularly the analysis of Big Data, holds the key to the future of our society. How does the data that you collect prevent disasters in the fields that you operate?

It is true that we are in the era of IoT and Big Data. However, I believe that there is a gap between what the media is saying and what is actually happening in the field. It is very important to listen to what the people in the field are saying, and not just listen to “experts” and their beliefs for the future of our society. Currently, companies of all kinds are accumulating a lot of data, but most of this data is dormant. Therefore, we need to work on how we can all use this big data to improve our society.


Today, your company provides solutions for power generations plants, oil and gas plants, and also aerospace and railways. Which segment represents the biggest amount of your sales?

The power industry is currently our largest segment. We monitor critical rotating equipment, such as turbines, compressors and pumps. We have 80% of the market share in Japan, and many companies in China, Taiwan, and Korea also use our products.


Today, up to 40% of plant equipment problems result from vibration in rotating equipment. How does your CMS reduce the risk of equipment problems?

It is too late to address the problem once the problem has already happened. The only way to counter these issues is by prevention, and more precisely, early and accurate prevention. People who understand the need to practice prevention will use monitoring on an accurate and frequent basis. Like humans, machines eventually die. However, we can detect problems earlier with our monitoring equipment and increase their lifespan. Each plant, and even the smallest of plants, have hundreds or even thousands of rotating machines. Because vibration “signatures” for different failure conditions have been studied, developed, and published for many decades, more than 40% of the problems in plants can be identified using just vibration monitoring. That is why prevention is crucial to run a plant efficiently and safely. I believe that IoT will play a great role in the prevention of accidents in the near future. IoT can not only monitor the plants, but also predict where the problem is coming from. By predicting which part is going to fail, we can procure the necessary spare parts in advance and reduce plant inefficiency through planned maintenance instead of unplanned downtime.


Both domestically and abroad, your company faces market competition, with industrial giants and local competitors also wanting to get their slice of the pie.What are the competitive advantages of Shinkawa Electric?

We want to differentiate ourselves through quality, and also by grasping exactly what our clients want and need. This can not be done by myself alone, and this is why I need the support of my employees. We want our customers to be happy, and more importantly to understand what they need.


The needs vary throughout world. How do you grasp the different needs of clients everywhere in the world?

The most important thing is understanding what is happening in the field. By analysing what our customers are doing, we can see what we need to develop in order to make our customers happy. We try to build a healthy relationship with our clients, in order for them to trust us, and to realise that we are here to make their factory as efficient as possible.

I always try to create an environment where my employees can express their abilities and where they can feel comfortable coming up with new ideas. We want our employees to be happy at work, and to feel pride in their work. We have of course been concerned with productivity, as our figures might be lower than others. However, rather than having people quit, I believe it is better to be able to retain our employees by stimulating their creativity, boosting their happiness and making them satisfied overall, especially when we analyse the shrinking population in our country.






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