Interview - August 7, 2019

The future demand will be led by Automation : Interview with Atsushi Ieki, President of Okuma(1/2)

Interview with Atsushi Ieki, President of Okuma

Reiwa 30 marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the company

Dr. Ieki, appointed as the new president of Okuma Corporation, has a vision: Reiwa will be the age of automation, and the future will be led by automation. He doubles as president and as a human resources development innovation executive, making a firm statement, “Hito-zukuri (human resources development) is the groundwork for both Mono-zukuri (manufacturing) and Koto-zukuri (value creation).” The company will establish Okuma University in the near future, focusing on human resources development.

What do you think about the machine tool industry in the future?

We held a quarterly employee meeting on July 1. I asked everybody, “How has Okuma lasted and grown for 121 years?” Founded in 1898, we put in continuous effort in the early days of machine tools and had the highest production in the country in 1937. In 1972, we developed the world’s first computer-equipped practical-use NC machine. In the Heisei era, we led the trend of intelligent machine tools. The global machine tool market will continue to grow on a mid- and long-term basis. So, what should we do in the Reiwa era? I declared, “There is no tomorrow for Okuma unless we achieve innovation.” In Reiwa 30 (2048), we will mark the 150th anniversary of our founding. We are now facing questions about what we should do to remain a leading machine tools company at that time.

What is the key technology for future growth?

It may be artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of things (IoT). I can say that Reiwa will be the age of automation and the age of smart machines that support automation. Labor forces in developed countries, including Japan, are decreasing rapidly. On the other hand, the (accumulated knowledge) in developing countries is so poor that it is hard to respond to rapid growth of demand. Under such a global economic environment, automation supports the development of the manufacturing industry. Furthermore, smart machines are required for automation. Our company provides smart machines that are unbreakable and will not stop. And in the Reiwa era, we will advance with the intention to “manufacture in Japan and win in the world.”

Today’s business outlook is uncertain.

I am not sure it will be within this year or next year; however, it is certain that automation will take the lead when demand increases again in the future. Success or failure of machine tool builders will depend on how flexibly they can respond to demand. We think that now is the time to develop our capability to respond to automation and to strengthen our business structure regardless of the current business outlook.

In either the case of AI or IoT, it seems to be difficult to hold every technology in-house.

It is important to determine the range of development. We have no intention to develop AI tools themselves. It is the task of our company to use AI at a machining site as a tool and to develop solutions using AI, based on our knowledge as a professional manufacturer. While there are a variety of levels of AI, almost all operations of our machine tools will be associated with AI in some form or other in the future.

Your title on your business card reads Human Resources Development Innovation Executive.

Hito-zukuri (human resources development) is the groundwork for both Mono-zukuri (manufacturing) and Koto-zukuri (value creation). Any task can be performed well after it has been performed for a few years; however, the people involved will no longer break the paradigm. This delays growth. Therefore, I have to continuously ask employees in essence, “Are you okay with that?” Employees who think and act with enthusiasm on their own will create the future of our company.

In what form are concrete results produced?

For example, our employees increase their experiences of success at Dream Sites  in an automated factory and provide them to customers as “menu.” The DS is continuing to evolve under the theme of “a factory of the future that combines automation and skilled workmanship.” While experiences of success increase the amount of throughput processing or processing speed as a result, the important thing is that every employee creates originality and ingenuity, no matter how trivial it is. We have introduced 2 ARMROID units into the DS, which integrate a robot into the machining chamber of a CNC lathe, and we are currently performing trials of them for small-lot production. The originality and creativity created in such a scene will be offered to customers as an option for “Koto-zukuri (value creation)” in the future.

………The second part of this article will be uploaded on August 9, 2019

Source:SEISANZAI MARKETING Magazine August 2019 issue

This article was translated by “T-4OO”.

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