IOT (Internet of Things) is driving digital manufacturing and productivity improvements in Japan

Posted on: 01/10/2018

Malcolm Harold talks about how simple technology implementation can make significant productivity gains for Japanese manufacturers.


Malcolm Harold, the KTN Digital Manufacturing Specialist, recently visited Japan to identify technologies, methods and learning to progress productivity and digital manufacturing adoption, that could be applied to UK manufacturing businesses.  The purpose of the visit was to support Industrial Policy Development and KTN were accompanied by representatives from BEIS, Innovate UK and HVM Catapult, meeting with METI (Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry, a ministry within the Japanese government) and NEDO (New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation).

A series of company visits were carried out with manufacturers near Tokyo including Sanyou and Hitachi.

One of the key areas of interest that was highlighted during the discussions was the understanding of IOT (Internet of Things) which is very different to the current mainstream understanding of IOT in the UK.

In Japan the implementation of manufacturing management from simple data collection processes that are thoroughly deployed in a true Kaizen (lean process) methodology, clearly demonstrates how simple technology implementation can make significant productivity gains.  Manufacturer Sanyou stated they achieved 20% productivity gains and Hitachi quoted 50% productivity gains with relatively low technology investments, which they are predicting will result in significant ROI figures.

Kaizen is significantly enhanced with this simple, but accurate, data from production process.  It provides a common data set for more objective discussion, improvements and innovation that has boosted an established and highly successful existing lean process (Kaizen).

Japanese companies Sanyou and Hitachi confirmed that by using this process, it eliminates misunderstandings and use of different methods of data collection, and gives a common purpose and focus to internal company departments.  Rather than being a new era of I.4.0, it’s deployed more like a Kaizen turbocharger with an upgraded engine management, not a brand new engine.


This insight gives us some key learnings for the UK;

The UK frequently focusses on high technology but Japan (from the 2 user cases) focuses on simple technology with traditional, rigorous, lean implementation for success.  This difference in approach would be an alternative approach for R&D within the UK manufacturing sector.

In the UK we need the trailblazing technology that the Catapults offer and also the slightly lower technology solutions that the bulk of manufacturers with lower growth profiles can adopt to still make significant productivity gains. Japan showed us the latter on this occasion with productivity gains that, given scale, can significantly contribute to our national economic gain.

The results of this visit will be to create a bank of data to compare UK and Japan to better understand the I.4.0 landscape challenges and opportunities between the two countries.  This could serve a number of purposes including further research, commercial projects, and identification of common projects.


If you need help with innovation in your manufacturing business or manufacturing process, please contact our Manufacturing Team.


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