Saturday, Sep 22, 2018
Industry & Trade | Asia-Pacific | Japan

Office FA, Japan

Linking the technologies of Industry 4.0 together


3 weeks ago

Mr. Iino, CEO of Office-FA
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Mr. Iino

CEO of Office-FA

The Worldfolio sits down with Mr. Iino, CEO of Office FA, to learn more about his unique business model and company shaping the productivity of automation.

 

How can the Fourth Industrial Revolution be an answer to Japan’s decreasing demographic?

It is important to note that Japan’s understanding of the Fourth Industrial revolution differs from that of Germany. The most flagrant difference between the Japanese and German conceptualization of industrialization is linked to the role of humans and to human potential. Abenomics advocates the development of robotic technologies. For three years, Japan’s political stance has been to utilize robots to cover for the country’s declining population and shrinking labor force. In Japan, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be centered on the maximum use of robots.

Japan and Germany are the only two countries that have acquired enough industrial and manufacturing expertise to develop cutting-edge automation solutions. That being said, Japan puts extra efforts and emphasis on the development of robots, and this is embodied by the large robotic companies of the country, such as FANUC or DAIHEN, which are global market leaders.

Simply put, robot manufacturing is the field that gathers the most attention. In Europe, however, the private sector has put an emphasis on developing system integration technologies. Over the last couple of years, the value of system integrators has drastically risen. During robotic exhibitions, companies used to present their own robots, as makers presented their own technologies. Nowadays, robot manufacturers also present the system integration techniques related to their products.

In Japan, manufacturers are skeptical of the “Torikumi concept” (to engage in or to grapple with), which forces them to respect a set of rules. If we take cloud-system engineering for example, it is a sector in which few rules have been articulated. In Japan, if there are no rules there is no approach.

 

How will robots impact the future of our labor force?

Robots will allow us to achieve a higher level of productivity; and it is our country as a whole which will become richer. From an individual point of view, we will work less hours while making more money. Under such a system, the human mind will be freed from monotonous work and we will have time to pursue our dreams and desires. For an ageing society such as Japan, robotics is the path to stability.

 

How can Japan Inc. evolve to re-gain its manufacturing supremacy?

The strength of Monozukuri is to produce “items that move.” When devices are immovable, such as televisions, there is no potential for Japan Inc. The manufacture of mobile devices is, and will, remain our strength. Since these products are more complex and require a higher level of expertise, it is difficult to compete with the quality of Japan purely based on cost-reduction. Furthermore, Japan Inc. must move away from information technologies. In terms of protection, efficiency, and adaptability, we are behind.

Various hardships, such as the reduction in quality are usually met when manufacturing factories relocate overseas. However, owing to our high economic and educational level, Japanese people are exceptional at training staff from all over the world to maintain high quality of products and overcome these hardships.

The ability of Japanese employees to not only better themselves but also those around them is one of our nation’s greatest competitive advantages. An example of this is when Japanese manufacturers entrusted the manufacturing of ‘home robots’ to Asian EMS (Electronics Manufacturing Service) companies after having trained staff accordingly. Today and tomorrow, Japanese makers will remain leaders in processing technology.

 

Can you run us through the history of Office FA?

We were originally created in 1997 and officially incorporated in 1999. We are experts in systematic processing, integration and development of technologies. Our core activity is to combine technological devices together. For example, we combine robotic technology with IoT devices to enhance machine operation. We have also linked robot technology to lithium-ion batteries; or robotics with new-era semiconductors. Our objective is to exploit the potential of automation by crossing technologies together.

We are a creative company by essence. While we manufacture very few “products” per say, we specialize in controlling device system technology. Our core technology is control systems. We produce devices that serve to control, measure and analyze the compatibility between cross-sectorial technologies. We utilize the equipment provided by other companies, such as FANUC or Mitsubishi, and through systematic information gathering, we transform their devices in universal systems that can connect with other technologies. In other words, our partners purchase equipment from other companies and come to us to ask if these devices can be utilized within their own systems. Through this accumulation of new technologies, we can successfully modernize the inventions of our partners.

 

Your field of work is applicable to a variety of industries. How would you define the service Office-FA provides?

We are comparable to a consulting firm. Our clients are giant companies who come to us to learn about the best use of a given technology. To a large extent, we are a “matching-making” business. We link the technologies and devices of our clients together. In Japan, we were the first corporation of our kind.

For too long, the value of system integration was disregarded in Japan. Commonly speaking, system integration was a role given to the lower divisions of large scale manufacturers. Due to our efforts however, we were successful in showing to the eyes of Japan the importance and potential of system integration. Japan has always had great capabilities in developing new ideas for completed products. For example, a TV set producer made great TV sets. However, it is impossible for that TV producer to link his device with the one of another manufacturer. If we take our system integration technology however, we can use a variety of devices together. Since the technologies we work with are diverse, we can provide solutions to a wide variety of clients across sectors.

 

What are the competitive advantages of Office-FA?

In comparison to international system integrators, we have the unique advantage of using the cutting-edge technologies of Monozukuri. Through our processes, even devices that were used 30 years ago can be re-habilitated to serve a different and useful function. Thanks to the outstanding amount of data we gather, we can sell our know-how and informational databases to a variety of customers.

 

Which markets have the highest growth potential for Office-Fa?

We focus on the Asian market. In 2018, we will open offices in Vietnam and Thailand. As Japanese manufacturers have a stronghold in China, we prioritize that region. Thailand and Vietnam come second and third, and at last we see growth potential in Myanmar. Our international strategy will be calculated and gradual.

Furthermore, we make great efforts to foster engineers for the Asian market. Since many Asian engineers come to Japan to learn about Monozukuri, we provide active training to future employees. This month we will accept and train 8 people from Myanmar, 8 from Vietnam and 8 from Thailand. After that, they can be transferred to our overseas markets with the expertise and knowledge to assist us.

 

What is your mid-term strategy for corporate growth?

First, it is to enhance our business related to the active use of robots. After that, we will target the field of logistics. In Japan, much effort is being put in production line efficiency. To this day however, humans remain the main ones responsible for the smooth development of production lines. We want to change that concept by merging human power and automation to enhance the efficiency and productivity of production lines. We want to exploit the philosophy of “Gemba”. “Gemba” is a concept that literally means "the real place." It is used in business process improvement contexts to refer to the place where value is added, such as a manufacturing area or a workshop. We would like to create an atmosphere were robots and human staff can work collaboratively and co-exist together for the betterment of productivity.

 

What message do you have for the youth that aspire to become entrepreneurs?

I will recommend paying particular attention to information processing. If we take large Japanese companies, old understanding and thinking prevails, which is an obstacle to the advancement of information technology. I would therefore recommend the young people to pay much more attention to information processing and to digitalization techniques.

Furthermore, I recommend investing in capable engineering staff. To compete internationally, you must raise your level of expertise. Generally speaking, I would also like physicians, chemists and engineers to pay much more attention to “Gemba.”

In 20 years, I would like to affirm that the Japanese society has become involved in system integration technologies. Nowadays, many youngsters want to work for manufacturing companies; they want to make something, and there is not much desire to be a system-integrator. Therefore, I want students to be more involved in the development of system-integration technology.

 


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