From boilers to X-ray machines: The range of Japanese machineryThe Japan Machinery Federation (JMF) distinguishes general machinery, electrical machinery, information and communication equipment, electronic parts and devices, transport equipment, and precision machinery.
In Japan, the highest production value among machinery represents transport equipment, for the most part, automobiles. General machinery refers to machines mainly for industrial use, generally aiming at facilitating production. Sometimes, one subdivides this category into general-purpose machinery, production equipment, and industrial machinery.
Electrical machinery includes, amongst others, household appliances. Information and communications equipment is a subcategory of electrical machinery but separately listed due to its particular purpose. Electronic parts and devices are the basic components used to build electronic circuits, thereby distinguishing themselves from other machinery composed of numerous parts. As those last three categories are closely related, they are often summarized under electrical machinery. Lastly, precision machinery designates all sorts of measurement and surveying instruments (cameras, microscopes, medical devices, etc.).
Next steps of automation: Moving towards the Internet of Things (IoT)Despite this plethora of machinery types, the common ground of machinery has allowed manufacturers like Toyota to move from weaving machines to passenger cars. Today, their know-how even transgresses autonomous vehicles: Toyota is the largest robotics patent holder in Japan and the second-largest worldwide. Other Japanese manufacturers like Honda, Fanuc, and Epson also position themselves in the global top ten. Large-size Japanese companies like these and their many small and mid-size affiliates push the trend towards automation on factory floors even further by integrating more and more information technology.
Promoted through the broadband cellular network 5G, 'smart factories' have already become a reality, where, for example, sensor-equipped production assets integrate into the central business infrastructure. The idea is to process big data in the Internet of Things using software tools. Industrial IoT may significantly increase quality but reduce costs, risks, and time by predicting maintenance, monitoring assets, managing remotely, improving logistics, or employing digital twins to simulate production. If Japanese manufacturers keep up their entrepreneurial spirit in automation, they likely remain at the forefront of the global machinery industry.