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Prepared for the future with Digital DNA



Author | BENEDIKT HOFMANN
Released on March 27, 2019 at maschinenmarkt.de
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INTERVIEW Fanuc is not only one of the leading companies in mechanical engineering and robotics, but also, according to Forbes, one of the 100 most innovative companies in the world. In an interview with MM editor-in-chief Benedikt Hofmann, company boss Dr. Yoshiharu Inaba explained how Fanuc wants to secure and expand this position in times of networking and what significance the German market has for the Japanese.

Everyone is talking about the changes that companies are going through as a result of digitalisation. Does your company also have to change to take this into account?

For us, digitalisation is nothing really new in itself. As experts in CNC technology, we began decades ago to digitise machines and systems. But of course I know what you mean. Today, the term digitalisation has a different meaning and a broader meaning. This digitalisation and above all networking has the potential to fundamentally change production. But it will be some time before the industry is ready. 

What are the reasons for this? In everyday life, for example, digital networking has already arrived across the board.

That‘s because of the complexity. You can‘t compare smartphones or consumer apps with solutions in the manufacturing industry. Here we have completely different requirements, which the solutions have to meet. Take, for example, the Industry 4.0 concept, which aims to network machines with one another in this way, that an entire factory can be controlled with one system and from one point. Until we‘re ready, there are still many steps to go. Once this development has been achieved, however, the change will take place very quickly, and we have to be aware of this as well. This is due to the enormous scalability and adaptability of the digital solutions.

Is your company actively involved in this development?

Of course, digital solutions are in our DNA. In Japan, for example, we have already introduced an open platform for the Internet of Things, which we use to support our customers in their development. In 2019 we will also roll out this platform in the USA and Europe.

In this context, much is still unclear, especially with regard to the handling of the data collected. How does your company position itself on this question?

It is clear to us that the owner of a production facility must also have unrestricted control over the data collected there. We may request permission for this information to be provided to us in order to improve our processes. There is still a great need for international legal regulations in this relatively young field. Developments are so rapid that legislators cannot keep pace.

How these regulations will look in the future will also have a major impact on how artificial intelligence is used in industrial environments. 

Of course. AI can best unfold its potential when there is unrestricted access to the data collected. Only in this way can it recognise patterns, create derivations and learn from what has been captured. We are in the fortunate position of being able to use our own data for these purposes. In our production in Japan we have about 1,000 machine tools and more than 4,000 robots in use. We use the data that we collect and analyze to optimize our systems and processes. The results of this work naturally also benefit our customers.

In this area, you are increasingly facing new competition from the ranks of large IT companies. How would you like to stand out from them?

This is not about simply developing software and making it available. It is much more important to understand the manufacturing process and offer solutions that are perfectly tailored to the needs of companies. Thanks to our decades of experience, we can do this like no other.

„For us, it is certain that the owner of a production facility also must have unrestricted control over the data collected there.“ 
DR. YOSHIHARU INABA, FANUC

Let‘s talk a little more about the German market. How important is this for your future plans?

Of course, Germany plays an important role. The country is one of the world‘s production heavyweights. However, we no longer view the German market in isolation, but in the context of a pan-European economic area. It is very important to us to take account of differences in legislation and national languages.

Do regional differences also play a role in the development of new products, for example with regard to the digitalisation and networking mentioned at the beginning? 

Absolutely, the solutions must be adapted to the needs of the different markets. This is another reason why we opened our European Development Center in Germany in September 2017. This center will help us, among other things, to optimize our software solutions for the European market.

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