APPENDIX B. QUESTIONNAIRE AND COMPILATION OF HOSTS' ANSWERS

The following set of questions were given to all the site visit hosts prior to the visits. Representative answers from the various hosts are also given.

I am doing a short report on present and future outlook in Japan in manufacturing technology. Japan invented the term "mechatronics" to describe the union of mechanical and electrical systems in producing a generation of machines, robots, and smart mechanisms for manufacturing as well as other applications. As part of the Japanese Technology Evaluation Center's (JTEC) reports, we completed a study on Mechatronics in 1985. Much has happened since then to the field, and there is an interest in evaluating the merit of repeating such a study next fall or winter.

I would be particularly interested to interview you and discuss your views on the current issues and perspectives of the manufacturing industry and its infrastructure in Japan and from a global context. Some questions that could be a basis for our discussion include the following:

Q1. What is your and Japan's vision for the future of manufacturing? Is mechatronics still a concept that is pursued in Japan, or has it outlived its usefulness? Originally mechatronics described a synergistic combination of precision mechanical engineering, electronics, control engineering, and computer science, all integrated through the design process. Is that definition still valid on 1997? Is this applicable to all manufacturing from airplanes to micro-miniature motors?

A1.
Mechatronics is out of date, very common in industry, requires more specific identification; such as MEMS, or Knowledge Base Intelligent machines (although that is also becoming obsolete).

[Some] areas are going into NANO focus, others in more intelligent systems, but now some convergence is becoming evident. For example: Sony CD players, very small and digital, mobile telephones.

Japan can't compete for "ordinary products" so has to push for next generation.

A2.
Mechatronics still living but most often not used since it is too broad.
A3.
Definition still valid, but there are many new terms: MEMS, intelligent systems, etc.

Q2. One reads about the use of robots in Japan being reduced and humans being reintroduced on the factory floor. Is that a short-term or long-term phenomena? In 1985, our team found that there existed a wide range of educational, cultural, and economic pressures to push flexible manufacturing systems, along with central planning and goal setting. Has there been a change in thinking on this? If yes, why, and what is the current thinking?

A1.
Key question is changing requirement and not use of robots. Humans are more flexible, more dexterous, and cheaper. For some tasks (e.g., welding) Toyota Kyushu uses 100% robots. Occasionally assembly lines have variety of functions, and that is when a human becomes the best choice.

In the bubble economy, everything was being automated since companies were flush with money. They over-invested. Additionally, unlike in the U.S., factory workers fear automation less since they know they have lifetime careers with the company. Toyota is not an extreme in this trend. NEC was trying to make a completely automated assembly line but because of new technology, automation made things very rigid and obsolete, so now they are also turning to a human assembly line. Toyota is not only doing it in Japan, but plans to build a similar assembly line in its Kentucky plant.

A2.
Experience has shown that you can't extract humans from manufacturing. The new Toyota plant is an old style assembly, environmentally conscious for nature and humans. Toyota's feeling is that the most flexible machine is the human. Humans can easily customize to fit local situations. The goal is thus to harmonize humans and the environment.
A3.
U.S. information technology and Japanese engineering are merging toward helping set up manufacturing plants in developing countries utilizing non-skilled labor.
A4.
In recent times the ratio of humans to robots has increased. For example, Kawasaki Heavy Industries tried to maximize use of robots but reached a limit. Also Nikon has started to use more humans in its manufacturing lines. Lack of flexibility and economic reasons drive these decisions.
A5.
In the automobile business, use of robots is less because suppliers have to respond more quickly to customer's interests. Today's robots are not very flexible. If robots become more flexible and economically it makes sense, more robots will be used. Key words are flexibility and cost.
Q3. Information technology, software, as well as mechanical and electrical systems are now being intertwined. Is that still "mechatronics" in the traditional sense or has integration moved beyond mechatronics?
A1.
Japan is pushing to create a "paperless society. MITI is pending 50 billion in three years to make it happen. There will be 10 industrial consortia. It will focus on:
  • Automobile (V-CALS (v for vehicle))
  • Ship Building
  • Plant Engineering
  • Semiconductors
  • etc.

In response to a follow-up question on where Japan is in relation to the United States in utilizing information technology, this respondent suggested the graph shown below (Fig. B.1). The respondent went on to say the following:

Today it is behind the U.S., but its rate of growth is faster. Toyota, for example, wants to monitor manufacturing activities in Indonesia and Thailand with engineers located at its Nagoya plant. Nissan and Honda are quite interested in V-CALS; Toyota has own program. U.S. is ahead but Japan is incorporating much of the U.S.-developed technology.


Figure B.1. Diagram comparing U.S. and Japanese progress in information technology.

Q4. Intelligent systems play an important role in today's manufacturing. What strategies are being pursued in Japan? AI had its problems in the United States. What is the current thinking in Japan on this? What technologies are being pursued? Is fuzzy logic still as important as it was a few years ago?

A1.
[Our] vision for the future of manufacturing is that [we] will employ a lot of NC machines tools and robots to realize autonomous manufacturing and to make more flexible, efficient and global products.
A2.
AI is just an advertisement; we use whatever technology is most effective.

Q5. What do you see in future development of man-machine interaction? For example, is speech input rather than keyboard input being developed? What stage is it in? Are there any prototype laboratories existing?

A1.
Customized use of functions is much preferred to keystrokes. Speech input [is] still far away, and there are fears that Japanese is harder for [a] machine to recognize.
A2.
Speech input is dangerous in Japan since language is very complicated, unlike English.
A3.
We prefer user-friendly panels: no keyboards but a list of functions. Keyboards are used for maintenance staff.

Q6. Japan had a near monopoly on high-precision robots. What is the situation today? Where is there the greatest threat of competition, and why? Also, for example, the accuracy of Fujitsu robots was 5 micron, with 1-micron repeatability. What is it today?

A1.
Still all Japanese.

Q7. Is the lack of computer science departments at universities a problem for Japan, particularly as it tries to develop a stronger software effort? Our rapid prototyping team found this a problem that impedes the development of young people dedicated to program development. What is your feeling on this?

A1.
Yes that is a problem but the situation is changing. For example, the University of Tokyo is creating [an] Information Engineering Department with 50 professors and 50 associate professors. Also a committee recommended to the Prime Minister that a National Information Technology Laboratory be created.
A2.
[re: Hokkaido Univ.] There is no computer science department, but they have 2 small departments: information processing and software.
A3.
It is very difficult to find people with good software skills. Universities don't really have proper staffs to teach those subjects.
A4.
Software is developing in ME and EE departments. Computer science departments are slow, and most focus on applications. Only one professor thought about advanced architecture, Professor Sakamura, but he was ahead of his time. Thirty two years ago he proposed the TRON operating system and MITI did not like it. Yamaha electronic pianos use the system that was proposed, and today many companies are improving TRON for their specific needs.

Q8. The 1985 [JTECH] report stated that Japan's research equaled the United States, except in two areas: software and vision. What would you guess it to be today? (Other areas include: flexible manufacturing systems (FMS), non-vision systems, assembly/inspection systems, intelligent systems, standards, manipulators, and precision mechanisms. What would be your answer to the status of development in each of the areas, in each country?

A1.
Japan is about the same in vision but still lags in software.
A2.
Much of vision is imported.
A3.
VISION IS STILL A LIMITATION, AND IF SIGNIFICANT PROGRESS WAS MADE TO PROVIDE ROBOTS "REAL VISION," THEIR USE WOULD INCREASE.

Q9. Due to emerging fields, additional areas have become important. What is the status of the following, and your view of their importance in manufacturing:

A1.
Autonomous systems are very popular; desktop manufacturing is still in research. The big problem is that you don't get a physical feeling for a "reaction" for "action." (Newton's 2nd Law is not represented.) Non--lithographic approaches appearing in small production, for example, metallic sintering (ceramic).
A2.
Desktop manufacturing introduced.
A3.
No autonomous systems (don't have a requirement). RP is imported from the U.S. Non-lithographic systems starting to be used: EDM, and laser systems.
A4.
DENSO using non-lithographic techniques - UV light.

Q10. How is the political, industrial, financial, and social structure in Japan changing as it pertains to manufacturing? How is the keiretsu system changing with the global linkages, or is it changing? One hears of a vertical keiretsu (traditional) and a horizontal keiretsu. What is the difference, and does a vertical keiretsu still effective in a global competitive world?

A1.
Many subsidiaries are looking for new clients since the big companies can't afford to keep the subs busy. Additionally big companies are starting to do jobs subs used to do to keep know-how at home, lessening the bonds between them even more.
A2.
Keiretsu [system] is breaking down due to political and economic reasons.
A3.
The keiretsu system won't be staying due to globalization of sub-contracted companies. For example, Toyota was once Nissan's sub-contractor. Denso, a sub for Toyota, now produces parts for GM and Ford.
A4.
Keiretsu will slowly break down.
A5.
Keiretsu [system] is breaking down because of economic reasons, quality assurance, and pressure from the U.S. Restructuring is also taking place, early retirement and transfers to less interesting jobs forces people to leave.

Q11. Vertical integration is easy when you have large companies, each having its technology centers closely working with its manufacturing parts. Now with global systems, and with many manufacturing units being in other countries, how do you ensure that the centers are still working closely with the offshore units?

A1.
Japan followed suit but has not concluded if this is good or not. But they are critically evaluating output. They want to keep "prestigious" work, cut down on generic work (send it to universities or business units). Monbusho has committees (2/3 from university and 1/3 from industry) for deciding on areas of work. For MITI programs, 90% are from industry, and they decide where research funding is spent.
A2.
Management tends to be vertical but funding like R&D is horizontal.
A3.
Use of information systems, e.g. ISDN at our company is providing communications links between centers.

Q12. What are the strategies pursued by Japanese companies to ensure that technology transfer occurs when needed, and that the right type of technology is being developed for future needs?

A1.
To help technology transfer, we often form joint projects with companies, otherwise we publish papers, give talks and sometimes accept researchers from industry to spend time at our facility. Currently, we have a number of Russian scientists (many from Vladivostok) coming to Japan. They are a good fit since they bring science and, with Japanese engineering, complement the staffs here nicely.
A2.
Buy or cooperate on product introduction . Licensing from small companies is a norm.

Q13. It has been reported that MITI is concerned about the continuous overseas relocation of manufacturing facilities. What has been the response? How does the issue of technology transfer to those developing countries affect competition?

A1.
We don't worry about that since we are always developing new technologies.
A2.
MITI is concerned about employment opportunities in Japan. However, there is a shift in Japanese view of life-long employment. New programs are available that a person can choose between life-long employment guarantee, and good retirement benefits, and initial higher pay, with no company retirement benefits. As a result of this, the people who opt to take higher pay now tend to be more mobile and have less loyalty to their company.

Q14. There is a new emphasis of Japanese government supporting research, while at the same time, such support is being decreased by industry. What short-term and long-term effects will that have on Japanese industry? R&D supported by government is going down as support for basic research is increasing. What are the long-term effects of that? Will a gap develop such as exists in the United States?

A1.
Companies are still supporting research but the proportion of funding is shifting from headquarters to business units.
A2.
We are joining some projects, for example, the IMS, but we don't believe in "national projects."
A3.
There is no rigorous review process for selecting projects. While in industry projects are chosen for merit, government funding does not get same scrutiny. Most government program managers, unlike those in the U.S., have no background in subjects they manage, so even though there is a 50% increase in funding, output might not be that much higher.
Q15. Japan has initiated the "Kohsetsushi Centers", as a means of helping smaller companies improve their manufacturing operations and products. How effective have they been? What are they doing right and wrong?
A1.
There are two types of such centers: prefectory technology centers and MITI labs. They are sometimes competing and overlapping in functions. Good buildings and facilities, but lacking people; therefore, companies are not very supportive of [this] effort.
A2.
THEY LACK STAFF. THE CITY OF NAGOYA INVESTED IN A MICROMECHANICS LABORATORY, VIRTUAL REALITY CENTER, AND DIGITAL INFORMATION CENTER.

Q16. What new basic and applied research programs are supporting manufacturing? Monbusho; STA; MITI; MPT? Are there any new showcase programs?

A1.
MITI now supporting manufacturing research in academia better than [at] any time in the past 20 years. Today 90% of the funding comes from the government; before 90% came from industry.

MITI's thrusts:

Japan Railway (JR) [is] funding a big effort on maintenance engineering - life cycle cost in energy and environment for railways. Energy usage >> energy for development/manufacturing<./I>

A2.
Don't see much going for support of manufacturing.
A3.
Clean environment, INVERSE program. Sponsored by NEC, Toshiba, and Mitsubishi, recycling of products for a cleaner environment.
A4.
The government (MITI) had an important [role] to play in supporting research, for example LSI in 1978. By reducing acquisition taxes by 7% MITI supported NC machine tool development in 1985.

Q17. In terms of R&D support from the Japanese government, it has been reported that the overall R&D support has decreased, while the S&T budgets have increased. What effect will this have on future competitiveness of Japan? What is the thinking on this? Will industry pick up the decrease?

A1.
5-6% of total sales, R&D stable.
A2.
Universities are now providing more skilled students than in the past, and there is more interaction between industry and universities... [we] hire mostly MS students, one or two PhDs out of MS 60 students.

Q18. What is the status on research and technology insertion in three major manufacturing areas:

A1.
All three lost vision but now see their future. There was even a fear of the collapse of the machine tool industry, but now there is agreement for the need of core competencies in this area. Makimo has a good market share of milling machines, but companies that rapidly diversified to include wide range of products, they developed problems. In the auto industry, Honda is becoming better, but for a while was having troubles ..
A2.
It differs depending on industry: semiconductor companies are putting more funding into R&D. Industrial machinery is funding R&D in high-speed machinery. Automobile companies are putting funding into environmental issues like low emission, electric cars, high mileage engines, compressed natural gas engines, and hybrid engines which combine electric and gas.
A3.
The automobile industry which thought about a car now has to think about an intelligent transport system.

Q19. What is the trend of university - industry cooperation in Japan? Is industry more dependent on Japanese universities, or are they still planning to be "self-reliant."

A1.
National universities in the past did not help individual companies, but last year due to changes in rules and laws, professors can now consult and there is an increase in cooperation.
A2.
Still not very close. Last year [we] had one professor from Canada.
A3.
Improving, but American universities still have much better relationships with Japanese industry than [with] their Japanese counterparts.

Q20. What is the source of new people for manufacturing? Is the educational system still producing adequate people to fill the need? Is the training relevant to industrial needs, or do the people need to be retrained?

A1.
Almost 50% of new hires have an MS or PhD, but industrial training is still needed for new employees. More importantly, for the first time there is an appreciation for advanced degrees, and starting salaries plus continued advancement [are] such that it promotes advanced degrees for employees. It is very rare that once having joined a company, employees get advanced degrees, maybe less than 5%. If they go to school they pay themselves and get no time off. Training centers at most companies are in-house and provide all of the continuing education needs for the employees.
A2.
We train our own people and recruit about 10 new people per year at MS level to the lab.

Published: September 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian