Safety is paramount in many industries, and this safety is usually ensured through high-quality testing. Japanese firm EMIC is one of the companies pushing the world of vibration and environmental testing forward, with its customers ranging from those in the automotive industry to space exploration. As explained by president Seiji Ohno in this interview, EMIC is the partner trusted for improving the quality, reliability and safety of industrial products.
In recent decades Japan and Japanese firms have seen the rise of regional competitors such as China, Taiwan, and South Korea that have replicated Japanese monozukuri taking advantage of cheaper labor costs to create products that generally speaking may have a lower cost but also have a higher rate of defects. Yet, we still see many small and large Japanese firms maintaining a very large global market share especially in B2B markets and niche fields characterized by a high mix, low volume production. As a comprehensive manufacturer and solution provider relating to testing equipment - vibration or environmental impact - please tell us: what does monozukuri mean to you and your firm?
Japan is widely known for its high quality, highly reliable products around the world. Our company is also known for producing high quality products especially in niche fields and we have customers from automotive, electronics, railroad, aircraft, and space exploration companies. We always prioritize the quality of the products that we release from our companies. Without the quality of our products, we would not be able to win the trust of our customers. Needless to say, we ensure quality as our top priority and we are trying to deliver this message to our customers; we make it certain we have the best quality in this particular area.
Once we try to expand overseas it is expected that we are going to face tough competition against the local companies in a particular country that we penetrate into, for this reason it is important to build up our brand and maintain the highest quality. We do this by procuring highly reliable parts for our testing equipment from other reliable Japanese companies. Furthermore, we are quite particular with the criteria that we use for the testing and always adhere to the proper procedure in order to maintain our standards.
Another challenge that Japanese firms have been experiencing is the demographic decline in the country. Western media always talk about Japan in the context of the fact that in the next fifteen years one out of three Japanese people will be over 65. This creates many challenges, one of which is a labor crisis. It is now much harder to find new talented, passionate graduates to pass on a firm’s accumulated know-how and manufacturing knowledge. Secondly, the Japanese market is shrinking. Please tell us the challenges that this demographic decline poses to your company and how you are going to overcome them?
It is very important to pass on this accumulated know-how to the next generation by the engineers and technicians that have been working for this company for many years. The younger generation must understand EMIC’s business perspectives. If some senior employees are already at their retirement age, we try to attract them with some type of employment, basically to extend their service for the company, in order for them to train the new generation of managers, engineers, and technicians. This is one method that we use to address Japan’s problem of working population decline. We are a company in a niche field, needless to say, it is very crucial for us to pass on the knowledge to the next generation of employees. The lack of human capital is also a social issue that we are facing right now not only here in Japan but in other countries as well. Another problem that we have to consider could occur during the employment stage, that is, having an employed individual does not necessarily mean that he would be efficient at his work. For this reason we run courses - an OJT - here at EMIC for our new employees to fully understand what they have to be doing for the company. We also utilize digitalization to compensate for the lack of human resources.
You have your main product categories: vibration equipment, environmental testing equipment, shock vibration system, as well as many others. Is there a particular product or segment you would consider your main focus? Which one do you see having the most potential for growth or success moving forward?
One of the major pillars for our business is the automobile industry. A lot of big and well-known companies such as Toyota, Nissan, and Honda, are our top customers. The primary reason why we have these companies is due to the shift to electrification where a lot of parts in the interior and exterior of cars need to be changed resulting in the need for new testing equipment. As a company we are very willing to accommodate their needs. Any segment which is related to testing equipment is a top priority for our company. Furthermore, the auto parts manufacturers in Europe are also experiencing a lot of changes. We are aiming to go and help some companies there.
The Automotive industry is one going through a period of great change. Both in terms of the phasing out of the combustion engines in favor of EVs, hybrid cars, or FCVs, and a material revolution where heavier metals such as iron and steel are being replaced with lighter counterparts such as CFRPs, aluminum, or magnesium. Can you please elaborate to us the impact that these major changes are having for your business?
The changes in the automobile sector are indeed increasing. Aside from the replacement of the combustion engine there is also the replacement of materials used for the bodies of cars as requested by our customers. If these companies require us to test the new materials that they use then we are ready to provide them with our equipment that are reliable and suitable to what has to be tested - hardness or durability. Our company, EMIC, is not a kind that creates products for mass production, what we do is we provide solutions to specific needs of a customer.
There is a growing need for more eco-friendly products that comply with the carbon-neutral mandates that we are seeing globally. To that end I would like you to talk to you more about your ECO-Vibe Advanced which can reduce energy-consumption by up to 36%. What motivated you to develop this product and what expectations do you have for it moving forward?
This energy-saving system, Eco-Vibe, has been designed as an eco-friendly vibration test system which depends on the unit being tested. Each time any test is conducted here a huge amount of electricity is needed. Eco-Vibe is the system which is able to optimize energy consumption depending on the test condition. Our company is doing its best to comply with the environmental mandates of the Japanese government. Aside from our Eco-Vibe technology, all of our employees are using hybrid cars. We are also using solar panels in some of the offices of our company.
I am very curious about your 512-D and 513-D types of small vibration testers, and if I understand correctly, they are first of their kind to use ceramic parts. I’ve always thought that ceramic is quite a fragile material. Why did you use ceramics for these small vibration testers and what are the advantages of using ceramic as a material in this context?
We introduced the use of ceramics into our small vibration testers because ceramic testers are able to reach a high frequency level compared to the conventional use of aluminum and magnesium. In some cases when a test is conducted the rate of the fluctuation is very high and ceramics allow it to reach the high numbers. The disadvantage of using ceramics is that they are too fragile.
You mentioned that one of your goals is procuring the highest-quality parts which are obtained from Japanese manufacturers. A number of Japanese companies use collaboration as the key to their successes in expanding overseas. What role does co-creation and collaboration play in your business?
We are facing an obstacle because the Japanese government does not allow us to do international expansion to the extent we would like because of the nature of vibration test equipment. While this is widely used for automobile manufacturing our equipment could also be utilized for building weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear weapons. Although our company has all the criteria necessary for quality approval, we have to get the export license from the Japanese Government for exporting all vibration controllers and the systems which have above a certain exciting force. Currently, we have a joint-venture with a local company in China and we supply Chinese clients with the system-combined vibration tester and environment testing equipment. Once we planned to outsource production to a joint venture company but gave up due to national security issues. Therefore, we export vibration testers from Japan the same as before and a joint-venture firm produces environmental testing equipment only. Sometimes we regret declining the offers we receive for our equipment from some EV companies in China, because the fact is car electrification is a fast-growing market there, as mentioned above. We cannot just easily pass on the technology that we have here in Japan to some other countries.
Your first overseas operation was in Thailand in 2013, then in 2017 you went to China and the US. Please tell us how you are overcoming these regulations or obstacles in developing your business overseas. What are the regions or markets that you consider key for your international development?
China is our first priority for our international expansion and the US is the second. Our first attempt in doing business internationally was in Thailand because around that time a lot of Japanese companies started localizing their production there, especially automobile-related parts. As we all know there was a change in Thailand’s government when the military took over and then the coronavirus pandemic happened, now we cannot definitely say that it would be beneficial and safe to do our business in Thailand. In 2017 we opened a subsidiary company that can do installation work and maintenance in the US since it is a country that produces massive amounts of cars locally. We know that Volvo and Tesla are producing EVs and as a company we have ideas on how to do business in this area as well - it will be a slow but firm process.
We know that you have recently opened two new sites in addition to your locations all across Japan as part of your Contacted Test Services. Please tell us the role that these Contacted Test Services play in your business model. Do you have any plans to introduce these to your overseas customers in the future?
We opened our testing sites and services in the Japanese market for our customers to get acquainted with vibration tests before they even place their orders. The idea is for our customers to have an introduction to what our testing equipment is all about. It is important to note that each testing center has its own tailor-made concept whether it is for traditional automobiles or EVs or hybrid cars. Our testing centers are well-equipped and designed such that our customers would have knowledge on what vibration tests are all about. Furthermore, our testing centers also cater to the aerospace industry; we are still in the first phase of this, though.
Our testing centers and services do not only provide the visual aspect of how they work but also the solutions. This is part of the co-creation and collaboration efforts of our company where we could have an in-depth talk with our customers in order for them to understand what our tests are capable of doing as well as the expected results. Some customers do not have any idea about vibration testing.
Imagine we come back in five years and have this interview over again, what would you like to tell us? What are your dreams for the company and what would you like to have accomplished by then?
I have already mentioned that we do business in the niche world and our company possesses a technology that is quite unique. This means that our technology is targeted to the specific needs of our customers. We do not only limit ourselves to vibration testing equipment but on a wider perspective, to provide our customers the best solutions related to any kind of testing services. Through our technology we would like to create a better future of reliability.