Organizations visited are listed in Table 6.4 (with no particular ranking). Examples of projects and products observed during the visit are reviewed in Table 6.5. Examples of processes, materials, and packaging projects observed at various organizations are reviewed in Table 6.6. Many of the figures in the previous section represent work from Japanese organizations.
The Japanese routinely achieve high levels of competence in all areas of PAT. Their appreciation for detail and emphasis on quality is evident in this respect. Japanese efforts in PAT can be subdivided into three categories: (1) R&D projects; (2) current product development; and (3) products currently sold in the marketplace. Three types of organizations were visited by the team: (a) universities and industrial research laboratories; (b) government organizations; and (c) commercial operations in corporations. Information in each category was available or unavailable to the JTEC team from each organization depending on its relationship with commercial competitive issues. Category 1 information had mostly longer-term impact and was discussed openly by all organizations (a, b, and c). Category 2 information was only known by commercial corporations (c). Because the corporations were sensitive to the competition, and because the product development process was short-term and confidential, Category 2 information was not discussed. Category 3 information was available everywhere. For example, an examination of products on sale (watches, automobiles, electronics, etc.) in downtown Tokyo revealed the outstanding capability of the Japanese to efficiently execute PAT processes.
Organizations Visited by Group
Projects and Products Observed
Processes, Materials, and Packaging Observed
It must be mentioned here that information control practices observed by the panel in Japan were identical to those found in the United States and Europe. Most commercial organizations, regardless of where they are located, will not make hard-earned information in all categories available to visitors.
The Japanese hosts were cordial and friendly to the JTEC group. Hosts were open and were willing to discuss projects, plans, and products within the limits of good business practice -- which meant that longer-term issues were reviewed openly, whereas strategic planning, current product intentions, and business practices remained confidential.
Approach. The Japanese appear to achieve success the same way all organizations do -- with a lot of hard work, efficient educational processes, a little magic, and much trial and error.
It was clear that our hosts tended to consider entire problems rather than pursue the type of uncoordinated, hobby-like, developmental projects found in many other places. They plan their work very carefully and understand the efforts-chain for their area of effort (Chain = Technology (r) Project (r) Component (r) Product (r) Market (r) Business). In some cases, where the size of the commercial opportunity justifies investment, organizations are willing to wait five years before reviewing a project and ten years before expecting a final result. Many times, as a project nears commercial implementation, it is submerged into a corporation where it is made into a final product.
The Japanese attempt to understand technical barriers and plan around them. For example, the development of processes, which they consider to be important in the future, is supported in advance and on a long-term basis. For example: (1) the super clean room effort is well supported and focuses on the development of very high speed microcircuits; (2) the Japanese have expensive facilities necessary for advanced processes such as LIGA; and (3) groups at both Matsushita and Tohoku University are involved in the development of three-dimensional microfabrication processes.
The Japanese attempt to define solid targets. Necessary performance requirements for a system are well defined so that efforts can be logically expended toward a goal, rather than proceeding endlessly toward moving targets. In addition to longer- term projects, the Japanese are keenly aware of the importance of today's dollar. Developments, as they move toward practicality, are planned to occur in successive commercial product cycles -- each having product value and serving as a basis for the next generation of products.
Development Strategy. Central organizations such as MITI attempt to create broad focus by encouraging R&D staff to target commercial products. They believe that coordinated component development leads to better integration, and use national projects as inducements for development groups to work comprehensively together. For example, the powerplant maintenance applications thrust of the MITI micromachine program includes many cross-disciplinary projects, such as the microcapsule, mother ship, wireless inspection module, wired operation module and associated focus on energy supplies, actuator mechanisms, sensors, communication systems, controllers, and other elements. Although some may have reservations about their approach, it has worked in the past and is clearly better than having no strategic plan at all.
The Japanese seem to view MEMS as an important area in that it can function as discriminating technology, which can provide leverage for sales of commercial products. Many hosts indicated that, in the MEMS area, silicon-related fabrication processes were important but that other, less standard techniques were being developed by their groups. They also expressed substantial interest in minisystems, which are larger than microsystems, and indicated that, in the nearer term, minisystems can have a great competitive impact.
Efforts in the PAT Area. The Japanese are very good at developments in the PAT area. Their work, as demonstrated by their commercial product successes, is ahead of that of the United States, even though much current work was not discussed. Across-the-board, Japanese products reveal considerable expertise in sometimes-considered-mundane areas such as seals, enclosures, valves, modularity strategies, assembly processes, testing for quality, cosmetics, and so forth. Certain hosts indicated that packaging and assembly processes will dominate the economics of final products, as well as substantially determining factors related to product ruggedness, reliability, and maintenance. They indicated that PAT approaches must become broad based, and developed along with fabrication processes.