Why monozukuri is not only the art of manufacturing, but also an art for society
Since starting as an engineer in the printing business in the late 1970s, I could not have imagined that Epson would become the company it is today: a global technology leader with a mission to better society and the world we live in. It surprises people to know that Epson is much more than a printer company and, in an age where technology is all around us, I want people to know about the technological advances that Epson brings. We have a passion for opening up new domains with our original technologies and it is this aspiration to try new things and the desire to move towards the unexpected that is needed as we move into an era where technology is becoming increasingly integral in our lives. People are hesitantly accepting the benefits technology will bring to their workplace in terms of increased productivity, but at the same time feel increasingly alienated and resistant. As manufacturers, it is our role to alleviate these fears and create products that help solve real problems and improve people’s lives; as organizations, it is our responsibility to integrate technology into the workplace; and as a society, it is our role to accept the opportunities that technology presents.
But I have to admit that our company has not always been so customer focused, and there was a time when we were guilty of looking more towards the competition than towards the customer. After I became president I decided to focus on a goal l of becoming an indispensable company that acts as a positive force in society. I have always valued our traditional Japanese spirit of monozukuri – the art and science of manufacturing – in keeping us grounded and able to deliver innovative products to the market, and I felt it was time to return to these roots. Monozukuri has been at the heart of everything we do since we began manufacturing high precision watch parts 75 years ago, and - while many of our competitors outsource production - we are proud of our vertically integrated business model that means we not only manufacture our own products, but retain our ability to reflect customer needs in the design and creation of these products. However, it is not only a philosophy articulated in every Epson product; it is one that is applied to the way we operate and I believe these old-fashioned values are applicable to the world today and will be in the world of tomorrow. As we move into an era where many feel uncertain about what the future holds, there are two principles of monozukuri that I believe will resonate with society today.
The first area is all about 'focus on the customer'. While it is essential to have a vision – whether as individuals or as an organisation – that vision needs to be one that is realistic and one that meets the needs of those around us. It was very much this approach we took when looking at evolving Epson’s Moverio range of smart glasses. Where others have aimed the range at the consumer, Epson saw a unique opportunity to develop a product suited to industry and business needs. Despite being faced with numerous options for where we could take this product, we listened to what our customers wanted – for example, a more durable and robust structure; a higher quality camera; and a longer battery life. We wanted to create a unique product, one that others cannot replicate due to the Epson technology in the product. This resulted in a highly usable product, which has seen growing success on the market and a model we will continue to refine as industry requirements evolve.
The second area is built around 'continuous improvement'. Everything we do should be centred on focusing on a greater goal and taking a single-minded approach and generating ongoing improvements to allow us to achieve that goal. Even when challenges present themselves, having this mind-set encourages the strength to keep going even when others around you might give up. It was with this strength, combined with our vision for printing in the late 80s that my team and I began to imagine the future possibilities that piezo technology could bring to the printing domain. In the 1990s, this came to fruition when I was given the leadership of a project development team of 80 highly skilled engineers to begin work on commercialising Micro Piezo technology. Today, we have one of the most innovative inkjet printer ranges that use this technology and bring a wealth of environmental, efficiency and productivity benefits to customers.
Technology aside, I have applied this mantra in my role as president at Epson. Combined with my engineering background, I sought to streamline our focus as a company by concentrating on our strengths and applying these strengths to areas where we could generate original value and really make a difference to people’s lives. This idea came to fruition in 2016 when I set a vision for the company that would address four core areas of innovation: inkjet, visual communications, wearables and robotics. As a result, our business is seeing substantial growth in these strategic business segments. In fact, Epson today ranks as one of the world’s leading technology companies, with sales revenues of $9 billion*, more than 72,000 employees in 88 companies and strong, if not market leading, positions for our inkjet printers, projectors, smart glasses and industrial robots within these focus areas. We are also an innovation powerhouse. We spend €1.4 million on R&D every day, filing about 4,000 new patents each year (and holding about 50,000 patents globally) – and we have been voted as one of the top 100 global innovators for six successive years.
We are now poised for the next chapter and I am ready to take the company forward. Our Corporate Vision (Epson 25 Corporate Vision) is one of growth based on the creation and development of a suite of products that generate original value and are specifically designed for a new connected age of people, things and information. It is a vision we expect will drive global revenues to 1,700 billion yen (approx. $15 billion) by 2025. Yet it will remain a vision grounded in our spirit of craftsmanship, dedication to our customers and commitment to our responsibilities in helping to protect the world we all live in.
I am certain in our potential to be so much more than a printing company. While that is and will remain a core part of who we are, we have the potential to thrive in the area of robotics, wearables and projectors thanks to our R&D and manufacturing heritage – monozukuri. My aim is to innovate and create new technology with the aspiration of creating a better world because it is certain that technology is going to change the world around us. I believe the time is now for us all to take the next step forward and in the meantime, let us try to take it together.
By Mr. Minoru Usui, President, Seiko Epson Corporation