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United robotics R&D to put Japan ahead

Interview - December 2, 2016

If Japan wants to enhance its innovative capacity robotics, it should coordinate the effort, staff and resources its private sector is making and create networks and links between its R&D teams, otherwise “keeping thing as they are, we risk being surpassed by foreign countries,” says Takafumi Morita, President & CEO of Yutaka, in light of advancing competition from overseas, particularly in China, Germany and the US.

 

TAKAFUMI MORITA, PRESIDENT & CEO OF YUTAKA ELECTRONICS INDUSTRY CO., LTD.
TAKAFUMI MORITA | PRESIDENT & CEO OF YUTAKA ELECTRONICS INDUSTRY CO., LTD.

Under Shinzo Abe’s leadership, the Japanese government has launched plans to triple the robotic sector to $21.5 billion. How are the policies of Abenomics encouraging the development of robotics in Japan? 

At Yutaka, we have been working in the robotics industry for 35 years. Currently we are experiencing increasing interest in this sector, especially due to the ageing population problems in Japan and the scarcity of skilled workforce. Robots are seen as one of the main solutions to these problems. It is important to understand that robots are not simply machines that handle things from one place to another or assemble cars or other machinery anymore. Robots, which are now integrating AI (artificial intelligence) or the IoT (Internet of Things) inside their functions, are doing better than ever, sometimes even better than human minds.

Abenomics has implied an improvement of the business environment, especially for small companies. Getting funds and governmental support to start new ventures is easier now. Medium and big companies can also obtain support to brush up the technology they have. This is important because, even if there are excellent Japanese robot makers in Japan, there is a lack of communication between companies, which implies competitiveness losses.

I feel that everyone is putting in effort, staff and resources to research the same things. If we want to enhance Japanese robotics innovative capacity, we should create networks and links between the research teams of the different companies. By keeping thing as they are, we risk being surpassed by foreign countries. When we go abroad we are seeing better and better robots in different international meetings. I will give an example: we have been present at the Robotic Exhibition in China with our own stand for 10 years. At that time almost nobody beat our robots. However, now we see amazing robots everywhere. If Japanese small and medium robotic industries do not join efforts in research and development, we are not going to be able to follow the path of the big Chinese or German manufacturers.

Abenomics is facilitating the business environment, true, but now it is our duty as the private sector to join efforts and move towards an open innovation model.

 

Your product portfolio is quite diversified, from electricity distribution and energy conservation devices to electronic control systems. Your core business is industrial robot systems. Could you elaborate on the history of Yutaka and why you specialized in these products? Where do your main competitive advantages lie?

Among our customers, we have several machine makers that only know about machine engineering. The same happens with our electronics makers’ clients: they are focused on electronics.

However, in Yutaka, we have a team of engineers and professionals from different fields that can connect all the industries together. We have designers, electric experts, industrial engineers, software programmers… This pool of experts is certainly one of our main competitive advantages.

Secondly, we customize our services to better fulfill our clients’ requirements. We carefully study the needs of our customers to then adapt our robots to their needs, which at the end means a more satisfied customer.

 

Aside from the obvious places to deploy this technology, as in car manufacturing, how will robotics become increasingly ubiquitous in the future?

We can see the future in smart robots that are able to collect huge amounts of data and work with it (big data) better than men can do. 

 

Yutaka plans to become an indispensable company within the industry and achieve a sales volume of over 50 billion yen. What steps are you are taking to achieve these goals?

The most important step we must take is to do things that other people or industries are not doing. That is the key factor that will give us an absolute advantage, as we did when we started in the robotics sector.

 

Doing what others are not doing means innovation. How does Yutaka work in this sense? Do you try to develop all your technology in-house or you see opportunities for example with international companies?

Small and medium companies such as Yutaka face limitations in terms of the amount of resources that we can mobilize to improve our research and development efforts. This is why we are experiencing a change in mentality among different Japanese companies that are starting to cooperate among them.

Of course, we also need the support from the big Japanese multinationals. In our case, we are fortunate to have a partnership with Toyota. They contacted us to improve their robots and also to find better robotic solutions for their manufacturing needs. Working with a leading company as Toyota will enhance our credibility and will help us to offer better solutions to our current and future clients.

 

Yutaka is present with investments in Thailand, Indonesia, China, Mexico and the US. Today we are seeing the return of the American manufacturing sector. These next generation manufacturing plants are increasingly using hi-tech equipment to keep cost low and quality high. How are you working to capitalize on the revitalization of the hi-tech American manufacturing?

If we talk about the US and Japan, we can find a lot of differences. In the past, Japan was focused on big production and quantity. However, Japan’s domestic market is just 25% of the US. We have now understood that to regain our former leading position we must be focused on offering quality rather than quantity.

US car manufacturers dispose of enormous amounts of budget for R&D that we would like to have available to boost our efforts in building better technologies. This is why we established a company in Ohio, to create synergies with potential customers.

 

As President and CEO of Yutaka, a company with more than 50 years’ history, what is your personal vision for the next five years?

Even if we are focused on the robotics industry, we are also exploring other business in the IT area. We want to be the Nº1 in the world by covering all the services related to robots. If you come back in five years, I hope that you can see our new factory.

We are becoming a multicultural company, so you will see a more cosmopolitan Yutaka. At this moment, we have customers worldwide and thus we need to have staff from all over the world too. Parts of our efforts are focused on boosting our idea to become a truly global company. 

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