Over the years, meistier corporation has developed, manufactured and set up many kinds of manufacturing equipment for customers around the world, mainly in the semiconductor industry. In recent years, we have provided new value to our customers by introducing our own in-house developed image processing AI, IoT systems, and robot solutions. In this interview, president and CEO Seiya Kudo explains how meistier provides comprehensive support to maximize equipment life-time value, plus how AI and robotics are being developed and used within the meistier group in order to better meet customers’ needs.
After World War II, Japan became known for its "monozukuri". What are your thoughts on Japanese manufacturing? Also, what is the advantage of Japanese manufacturing over regional competitors such as South Korea, Taiwan, and China?
The concept of "kaizen" was first introduced by Toyota, a pioneer in the field of manufacturing, and this has spread to companies throughout Japan. What is unique about Japan is that the concept of "kaizen" is not only understood, but is deeply rooted in our culture as a philosophy of ingenuity. It is about each of us giving our best in our work, and it means all of us coming together to create the best we can.
Providing products and services of the highest quality has always been a cultural goal of Japan. Since the beginning of Japanese manufacturing, the technologies and methods developed here have gradually spread to other countries. However, "kaizen" and the ability to keep being creative and ingenious, qualities which are rooted in Japanese culture, will continue to lead the world to newer and better manufacturing technologies and methods, even in our ever-advancing technological society.
Many Japanese companies have shifted their mass production activities to countries with lower labour costs. This has been happening for the past several decades due to the labour shortage in Japan as well as the need to lower production costs. We have been carefully observing how manufacturing technologies and methods originating in Japan have been introduced into overseas manufacturing. It is a difficult task to communicate and utilize new manufacturing technologies and methods born in Japan with overseas manufacturers, but it is down to us to solve this problem.
We are already coming up with proposals for the manufacturing industry using a synergy of robotics, DX, AI, and other technologies, combined with meistier's talented workforce around the world. The evolution of manufacturing in Japan is unstoppable and still has great potential for growth. We want to keep evolving with such companies.
Compared to other developed countries, Japan is lagging behind in digital adoption. It ranks 27th in the IMD Digital Competitiveness rankings. As a company that contributes to this field by building networks and using ICT platforms, what do you think Japan needs to do to promote digitalization?
Digitization is not new to us; we started digitizing even before DX became a global trend. We believe that the coexistence of technology and people is necessary for meeting the goal of “Society 5.0”, something which the Japanese government is currently advocating, as well as for people to live happy, full lives.
We possess our own "monozukuri" technology consisting of IoT and sensors as key hardware components, in addition to image processing "AI" technology on the software side. By integrating these technologies, we can realize "kotozukuri"; that is, the proposing of new concepts, but with added value. Furthermore, looking to the future, we are also involved in "HITOzukuri"; by this we mean growing and developing the abilities of people who are going to be active in “Society 5.0” and “Industry 4.0” by utilizing our know-how of human management and ICT.
In the future, we will continue to propose and achieve this coexistence of "HITO" (people) with the fusion of our hardware and software technologies. This is a key strength of our company.
Imaging AI Technology Capabilities as a core competency
This year you have restructured your business into four key divisions: World Fab Support, Next Generation Smart Revolution, HITO Capacity Expansion and Development, and Next Generation Aquaculture. Which of these four business units do you see as having the most potential for growth in the domestic and international markets?
We are not concentrating on one particular segment of our business, but rather we are looking to grow all four segments while continuing to create synergies. As CEO, I would like to emphasize that "people development" is an eternal theme and a crucial element for any company. We must nurture people who can master those things that only a human being can do, as well as those who can use the most advanced technologies. Such people, coexisting with the latest technologies, will be able to improve efficiency and lead happy lives.
On the other hand, evolving elemental technologies must be utilized to fit the purpose and environment in order to coexist well with people. The next generation of smart technologies will offer machines and environments that are easy for people to use, no matter how advanced the technology may be.
The system solutions we are promoting in aquaculture are one example of such technologies that can reduce the burden and improve the efficiency of even the most arduous work. Our World Fab Support Unit will spread these manufacturing technologies and methods created here throughout Japan and beyond.
In short, we do not view the domestic market and the international market separately. We always take a global perspective and strive to provide technologies and services that are appropriate for each region. Therefore, we are aiming for all our divisions to make leaps by having them work together to make effective synergies.
You are developing this robot with a company called K.K. DeAgostini Japan. What kind of co-creation partners do you need in the future? Specifically, what industries and technologies are you looking for?
Regardless of our international partnerships, there are limits to what we can achieve on our own. We have a solid track record in technology development and service provision, but we believe that we can grow further if we have partners who can connect these technologies to the market and make use of them in society.
Likewise, when it comes to technology, we don't aim to have all the technology; rather, we aim to reach the highest level with certain key technologies. That is the key to our success. We would be honored to have a partner that fits such a business direction, where each company could complement one another. In this sense, K.K. DeAgostini Japan is an excellent partner for us.
The robot (Robi2) that turns to your smile!
For example, what is your strategy for introducing aquaculture to the international market? Do you look for sales partners, do you do mergers and acquisitions, or do you do joint ventures?
The idea of global expansion comes with local partners who understand their individual markets; they understand how to best use the technology locally. By integrating our technology with their local knowledge and expertise, many things become possible. For example, aquaculture usually requires extensive manpower, but our technology can streamline and reduce the burden of heavy and dangerous work. This technology is currently being used for local people who are suffering due to a labour shortage. We can create an environment where anyone can work, regardless of age or gender, while at the same time improving work efficiency and quality.
The semiconductor field is currently worth 470 billion dollars and is expected to grow to 1 trillion dollars by 2030. What is your company's unique strength in the semiconductor field? What are the reasons why customers choose your company over other companies?
When we think about the next ten years, society and technology will both evolve immensely. In the midst of this evolution, meistier’s unique strengths can be divided into two major categories. The first is the ability to make proposals using technologies that we excel at, such as image processing AI. Our customers are already using systems that utilize our image processing AI technology, and we will continue to propose new and evolving technologies. The second is our global support capability that maximizes the LTV (lifetime value) of field service equipment, such as at production sites. A lot of semiconductor manufacturing equipment and machinery stays in use for more than ten years. Our goal is to improve the accuracy of such equipment and extend service life while keeping it working at its maximum potential.
We are involved in the planning, development, and manufacturing of equipment, and we try to maximize LTV by incorporating our IoT and sensors where possible. In all of these stages, one of meistier's strengths is that we have a thorough understanding of how our customers are actually using the equipment. We want to keep working closely with our customers and continue to provide solutions that utilize the best technologies for our ever-evolving society.
You have developed robotic technology that assembles cables in a highly consistent and accurate manner for semiconductor back-end packaging applications. Can you tell us more about that technology and how it meets the need for efficient and accurate assembly?
The robot not only makes cables and assembles equipment, but also carries out inspections of manufactured parts. During the inspection stage, the robot scans the finished parts with a camera and judges whether they are good or bad by using image processing technology. In most cases, the manufacturing and assembly process enables more accuracy and stability in the long run when compared to assembly by hand Moreover, the image processing technology can detect more detailed abnormalities than visual inspection by human eyes, further contributing to increased efficiency and accuracy.
Our current Fab 2, as well as our new Fab 3 which is now under construction, will be places where we can work with our customers to manufacture equipment, understand their needs for further efficiency improvements, and put into practice new technologies and ideas to solve those needs; this will allow us to make proposals that will improve the efficiency and precision of our customers’ processes.
Cutting-edge Smart System Creation
You have been present in the United States since 2007, in Taiwan since 2017, and most recently in China. What new markets do you plan to enter as part of your future international strategy, and which markets are you focusing on?
Our priority is to strengthen our business in the regions where we have been successful. China has the most potential economic growth, while Taiwan and the US continue to change and evolve. We have an office in China and work closely with our office in Taiwan. We are also looking to enter South Korea, which is a similarly large market.
Global Field Engineering Support
Let's say you come back for another interview in five years. What would you like to talk about then? What are your dreams for the company that you want to achieve by then?
Global expansion is the top priority right now. The world's leading semiconductor manufacturers will continue to expand their global operations to countries around the world. We, together with our customers, would like to go to the target countries to strengthen our business.
At the same time, by continuing to pursue our current four missions with our customers and partners on a daily basis, we hope to become leaders in our respective fields in five years' time. We also aim to grow into a company that continues to take on the challenge of "kotozukuri"; by creating a synergy of technologies that we excel at, by employees who continue to develop their own abilities as individuals. In five or ten years from now, I would be keen to talk again about our new dreams and missions and how we plan to achieve them.
The company name we created, "meistier", is an amalgam of the German word "Meister", meaning "master", and the English word "frontier". Our message to everyone is: "We will use evolving technologies for the benefit of people and the planet, to create a future we can be proud of for generations to come."