The situation where the Japanese manufacturing industry was placed seems to be picking up once, depending on the economic trend and exchange rate of the past one or two years. However, as you can clearly see from the trade balance, the ability to produce and export goods has declined since the 1970s and 80s. The expectation of employment is also completely replaced by the service industry after the “lost 20 years”.
In addition, the disappearance of the semiconductor industry, which has been said to be “the rice of the industry”, and the sluggishness of the consumer electronics industry gave a shock to the confidence and pride of Japanese manufacturing. The lack of innovative product planning capabilities, such as Apple Computer, directly affects the company’s profitability and continues to tend to make products that have high technology but cannot be sold well.
On the other hand, high-performance parts made by Japanese companies support overseas mega-hit products, and it can be said that manufacturing such invisible parts is making a big profit. In addition, to automate a plant with high quality for production, FA equipment and machine tools are often made in Japan. In addition, the progress of Japanese companies is conspicuous in the world of raw materials, such as carbon fiber.
In this way, there are various stages of manufacturing, and considering about this, it may be safe to say that Japanese manufacturing is still healthy. However, consumer products have added-value which is the highest among products, and their economic effects are enormous, including demand for derived services. There is no reason to give up innovative products that create new categories, such as Sony Walkman and Nintendo NES.
The reason why the German government listed Industry 4.0 as part of its policy is to strengthen the competitiveness of the manufacturing industry nationwide. The competitiveness of the manufacturing industry is declining relatively in Japan and Germany. In addition, it can be said that the industrial structure with many SMEs is very similar to Japan. There seems to be a lot in common with diligent national character. That doesn’t mean that the Industry 4.0 policy can apply to Japan. There are critical opinions such as, “From the perspective of automation, everything that has already been done in Japan” or “You are aiming for a sublime, but you wouldn’t be able to do anything.”
However, I would like to point out that this is not a comparative analysis between Japan and Germany, which tends to flow in an optimistic or self-affirmative direction. There is a different point of view from the pessimistic perspective that the progress is already largely separated and it is not known if Japan can catch up Germany. That is exactly the difference between the attitude toward ICT and the skill of working together through standardization and frameworks.
In general Japanese companies, the mobility of employees is low, and it is said that it takes 10 to 15 years to become full-fledged at a production site. Therefore, there was rarely an opportunity to compare manufacturing methods of their own with those outside of the company. Therefore, as soon as the connection of the systems is considered, there would be a lot of discussions in the long run. In other words, it can be said that Japanese are far behind Western countries in their ability to grasp the situations abstractly, convert them into languages, and use them as formal knowledge.
In terms of collaboration, in Japan, the management method is basically based on the theory that humans are good-natured. On the other hand, Europe and the United States are fundamentally based on the theory that humans are bad-natured, and there is not much mind to proceed with kaizen there. If you don’t keep what you need to protect, everything will be stolen. There is a possibility that such basic stances in Japan would be a cause of negative impact as to security issues, while it have been invisible when applied in only closed Japan, it might be big obstacles when the system is globally deployed using ICT. .
The Japanese manufacturing industry has always faced with the risk of technology leaks when it is expanding overseas. The more digitalized it is, the more serious this problems, and as a result, it may allow free-running technology by the latecomer. Even if we know the reason to close the core part that is the source of competitiveness by the open & close strategy3), it cannot be actually separated for the reasons mentioned above.
There may be a platform strategy that opens everything, attracts competitors to your platform, and expands the market itself. However, these strategies need to be advanced by combining more advanced methods, intellectual property strategies, and marketing strategies, and appropriately combining methods such as international standardization. I have to say that Japan is the worst at its ability to form such a global scale ecosystem.
Even those who saw the aim and efforts of Industry 4.0 as not being a major threat based on the current Japanese technological capabilities, after they see the strategy in which they are thinking about creating a system that could be beneficial to their company or their own country behind global ecosystems, Industry 4.0 or the Industrial Internet Consortium4) you should realize that while you are looking at them without doing anything is dangerous.
3) Koichi Ogawa, Open & Close strategy, Shosuisha (2014)
4) Industrial Internet Consortium, http://www.industrialinternetconsortium.org/