Japan’s Take on the Industrial Internet of Things

Jan. 6, 2016
A first-person account of how the Japanese market is approaching Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things based on observations from two major automation fairs held recently in Tokyo.

Japan hosts two major bi-annual automation events, the System Control Fair (SCF) and the International Robot Exhibition (iREX). The two events are held in conjunction, providing a unique insight into Japan’s view on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0.

Considering how global industry is looking to merge information technologies (IT) and operational technologies (OT) as part of IIoT and Industry 4.0—and how these initiatives are mainly being driven by the U.S. and Germany—getting a Japanese perspective was highly informative.

I came away with four main observations that highlight the Japanese perspective:

  • IIoT will be driven by companies, not organizations;
  • Cooperation is the order of the day;
  • Being disruptive has no real value for the transformation of OT and IT in Japan; and
  • Technology development for IIoT starts with OT, not IT.

The terms Industry 4.0 and IIoT were both used extensively by companies presenting at the fairs. The overall strategy I saw on display was to base these concepts on existing platforms but with careful steps aimed at extending from OT into IT. This runs counter to much of what I have encountered in North America. The term “Monozukuri,” often interpreted as meaning simply “manufacturing” but which can also be translated as “craftsmanship,” is used widely in the context of IIoT in Japan. Maybe nothing better explains the Japanese approach to these new ideas.

When it comes to IIoT-related organizations, Japan has the Industrial Value Chain Initiative (IVI), as well as a few other organizations. I mention IVI in particular because it has taken the first step towards forming a counter-standard to Germany’s Industry 4.0 to connect businesses via the Internet. The aim of IVI is to establish a structure that will connect even small and mid-sized companies beyond affiliates and across sectors. However, I saw very little at the events related to or initiated by IVI.

Looking at direct collaborations between companies, the best example I saw at SCF was the announcement by CLPA and PI related to the development of a transparent network infrastructure between CC-Link and Profinet. With Mitsubishi Electric and Siemens standing behind this development, it’s easy to see the potential impact of IIoT and Industry 4.0 on the global automation market. (Read more about the CLPA/PI agreement.)

At iREX I witnessed a great deal of focus on Cisco’s and Fanuc’s work around the concept of “Comprehensive Network Security at Every Step.” Instances of companies working together for projects like this are happening more frequently, as the promotion of common solutions seems to be a key step towards broad, IIoT-driven business opportunities.

Cloud computing, which is attracting so much attention in the western hemisphere, does not seem to have the same charm in Japan. Connecting to the cloud is considered an enabler, but not inherently useful in and of itself. And many in Japan are stressing the obvious importance of security and privacy. Based on my observations at the events, the IT industry in Japan still needs time to position itself for IIoT, as their market is driven by the big vendors and their internal IT organizations.

Though Japanese industry is carefully assessing the concepts raised by the U.S., Germany, and other countries about the “connected industry,” I believe major global players will be the ones to kick-start the real deployment of IIoT and Industry 4.0 in Japan. However, in Japan, it will likely play out via an OT-based approach with adaptation and connectivity towards IT, rather than the other way around as appears more likely in the U.S.

Armin Pühringer is the business development manager at Hilscher Gesellschaft für Systemautomation mbH in Hattersheim, Germany. He joined Hilscher in 2010 and is currently responsible for managing Hilscher’s IIoT and Industry 4.0 solutions. With more than 25 years of experience in industrial automation, Pühringer has held leadership roles in engineering and development with multi-national companies such as ABB Automation and Fanuc Robotics. He has worked extensively with automotive and process industry applications and has specialized knowledge in industrial communications, IIoT/Industry 4.0, and robotics.

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