There is a need for a structural shift in Japanese manufacturing. The manufacturing industry, which initially consisted of simple acts of buying raw materials, processing them into products, and selling them, gradually became functionally differentiated as its mechanism increased in complexity. The manufacturing seems to have been divided into things and making. I feel that production sites that simply pursue cost and efficiency have become a bit boring and dull. To say abstractly, units that are made with things and making has become organically coupled objects, like amoeba, that is, I wonder if dynamic manufacturing organizations are possible to be established. In order to be a cool production site and to continue to be a brilliant production site from the young people’s point of view, it is needed to be not just “making ” but “things and making ” as one set and to stay together without leaving each other.
One clue to getting there is proper use of standpoint of making final products and standpoint of creating a “structure” for making the products. There should be ways of manufacturing, such as making production machines and devising the production line system by oneself which have similarity with Karakuri (Traditional handmade methods). The functions such as process design, production technology, and production preparation as shown by the JSME-MSD model are established with people at the center, and they are being integrated with production sites to reconstruct a brilliant site.
Another effective aspect is digitalization of manufacturing sites with ICT. The world of manufacturing is similar to the world of Atoms, and on the contrary, the world of information is said to be the world of Bits. Both worlds are based on different principles. It is the world of Atoms when actual processes on things are being done at the factory. The world of logistics for delivering products from factories to consumers is also the world of Atoms governed by physical laws. On the other hand, the world of bits of information is not governed by physical laws. Information can be replicated indefinitely, and it can move through the space at once. In a cyber-physical world where Bits and Atoms are fused, things that couldn’t be imagined currently may become possible.
The argument here is who will take the lead in such a world, that is, who will take the initiative. Western companies are completely ahead of ICT currently, and Japanese companies are busy catching up with them. On the other hand, Japanese companies have superiority in the world of manufacturing. In other words, companies who could lead in the ICT and manufacturing integration area could be Japanese companies. That is to say, the Bits side is quicker to understand the world of the atom, or the Atoms side is faster to proceed than the Bits side.
For the factory side, that is, the Atoms side, the Bits world, that is, the ICT world, is already a familiar area in terms of utilization of information systems. However, the fear of the ICT world is that it works only when it is connected to counterparts. For example, a telephone does not have a conversation unless the other one is using the same protocol. Due to the nature of network externality, the more connected partners, the higher the utility value of the product. In addition, since the replication cost of digital data and programs can approach to zero, it is necessary to understand the relationship between manufacturing costs and sales prices with a completely different idea from the current understandings. Furthermore, intellectual property management is extremely important to manage the asset value of the ICT developed.
This intellectual property management technique is closely related to building an “ecosystem”. As products are unable to function on their own operation and are positioned as one part of a large system clearly, products will not spread in the market unless publishing some of their internal mechanisms. This trend has become increasingly prominent as the ability of connecting is gradually shifting its weight from hardware to software.
A factory, as products can, can show its performance only when connected to other factories. If a factory does not connect, expensive equipment and machinery in the factory won’t work well. Much of the connection between connected factories is information and software in a broad sense. In engineering chains such as design process and maintenance process as well as in supply chains, digitalization will continue to develop in the future, and further tactics regarding “Connected factories” will become stronger8).
In a world dominated by network externalities, the predecessors will gain enormous profits, and the followers no longer have the power to control the market. In the world of manufacturing that drags Atoms by half, even if it is not so remarkable, but in the future, if you focus on the followers in the process of integrating ICT and manufacturing, you will have to fight with significantly disadvantageous game rules.
Considering this situation, the volunteer members of “Connected factories research subcommittee”, beyond the positions of the companies and the organizations, undertake to establish the framework of cooperation at first. The Industrial Value Chain Initiative (IVI) takes the form of declaration that the advanced engineers who know much about manufacturing in Japan will take the initiative as leaders, not followers, for a new era.
There are various first steps, such as what kind of issues should be dealt with, and what sort of partners to form alliances with, for companies that agree with “Connected factories”. However, each company does not tackle the issues independently as before, but decides the direction while forming multiple clusters, and at the same time uses elemental technologies and standardization technologies of each cluster that are shared throughout the consortium. By making such activities open to the outside as much as possible and disseminating information overseas, human resources and wisdom from overseas are actively taking into the consortium.
Rather than with top-down movement in accordance with the national policy, rather than with companies or group of companies’s behavior, with many of Japan’s manufacturing companies, with gentle cooperation in the spirit of Wa (spirit of cooperation), if we can design a framework that takes action and at the same time incorporates a framework of competition and cooperation, it will become a major international trend of frameworks. Industry, academia and government will cooperate in their respective positions, from the beginning, without providing barriers, such as domestic and foreign barriers, advancing in glare both global and local domains, that will expand their activities to the borderless, international of manufacturing proposed in Japan and the presence will be established.
8) Yasuyuki Nishioka, Autonomous Decentralized Platform for “Connected Factories” in the Borderless Era, System Control Information Society Journal, Vol.28, No.3 , System Control Information Society ( 2015 )