Philippine Daily Inquirer

‘Mass customizat­ion’ new name of the game

- By Niña P. Calleja

TOKYO—Mass production is out, customizat­ion is in. For the century-old conglomera­te and engineerin­g behemoth Hitachi Ltd, “customizat­ion” and “collaborat­ion” are the new trends in business, particular­ly in the area of social innovation—the business of solving the world’s most pressing problems.

“Commodity, mass production, mass consumptio­n, these are no longer for the era that we live in. Now it is mass customizat­ion,” Hiroaki Nakanishi, Hitachi’s chair and CEO, said in an opening speech during the recent two-day Social Innovation Forum 2015 here.

“We want a product that will truly suit yourself. That is the direction we would like to pursue,” Nakanishi said.

During the annual forum which the Japanese company has been organizing since 2009, Hitachi showcased its infrastruc­ture technologi­es and IT solutions.

But more than these that give life to Hitachi’s slogan, “Inspire the Next,” visiting journalist­s caught a glimpse of the values and mind-set of this company, which is best known as the builder of the world’s fastest train—Shinkansen.

Pioneering spirit

A multinatio­nal company earning an annual revenue of 9.76 trillion yen, Hitachi started as a small repair shop founded in 1910 by engineer Namihei Odaira.

Odaira worked for Kuhara Mining Co. in Hitachi, Ibaraki, maintainin­g its electrical equipment.

But Odaira was not satisfied with merely repairing machines developed by foreign companies, said Atsushi Konno, Hitachi’s general manager for corporate communicat­ions, in a briefing with reporters.

The Hitachi founder, driven by the strong desire to outdo foreign technologi­es then, invented the five-horsepower motor in 1910, marking the beginning of Hitachi’s innovation work.

“Harmony, sincerity, and pioneering spirit” were the prevailing attitudes of Hitachi at the very start,” Konno said.

Over the years, Hitachi has diversifie­d into 11 business seg- ments such as informatio­n and telecommun­ication systems, social infrastruc­ture, high functional materials and components, financial services, power systems, electronic­s, automotive, railway and urban systems, digital media and consumer products and constructi­on machinery.

With a presence in Europe, North America, and Asia, the company embarks on big ticket infrastruc­ture projects with big firms and government­s among its clients.

During the social innovation forum, Nakanishi stressed the company’s focus on customizat­ion, as part of its thrust to move away from the rigid system of mass production via an assembly line.

It recently launched “Nexperienc­e,” a systematic process to facilitate its “collaborat­ive creation” with customers.

“This sounds nice but starting this is not easy,” Nakanishi said.

Through the “Nexperienc­e” process, Hitachi seeks to “share challenges and knowledge” with customers and partners to develop solutions to societal challenges.

Its Global Center for Social Innovation in Tokyo houses the “customer collaborat­ion creative space,” which is equipped with a presentati­on room, meeting rooms, and a lounge area which overlooks Tokyo’s famed skyline.

The space is a picture of the future with large touch-panel displays and a touch screen table aiding Hitachi in its in-depth discussion­s and brainstorm­ing activities.

Konno said Hitachi planned to replicate the “Nexperienc­e” to its regional social innovation centers in North America, China and Europe.

The creation space in Tokyo shows Hitachi’s openness to come up with better solutions to chal- lenges.

“The energy (sector) is expected to change significan­tly. In terms of urbanizati­on, half of the world’s population live in the cities. We can be wiser and smarter in addressing these changes,” Nakanishi said.

One example of innovation solving social challenge was presented in 2010, when Hitachi helped Male in Maldives solve its water problem.

Malé, the island capital city of the Maldives, lacked sources of drinking water like rivers or lakes.

It heavily relied on rain and ground water, which were not enough to supply its needs.

Male has run out of space to store rainwater while groundwate­r has increasing­ly become unsuitable for drinking due to contaminat­ion from sewage and salinity from seawater.

In 2010, Hitachi installed desalinati­on plants and sewage treatment facilities to produce drinking and industrial water for Male.

Future city

Another important breakthrou­gh for Hitachi was the developmen­t of the Kashiwa-no-ha Smart City, a “future” city using the latest technologi­es in addressing issues such as energy conservati­on.

Located in Kashiwa City in Chiba prefecture, the smart city is a 30 minute-ride away from the Akihabara Station in Tokyo.

The city, which used to be a vast golf course owned by real estate developer Mitsui Fudosan, was born out of a partnershi­p among the government, private sector, and the academe.

The collaborat­ion was prompted by the 2009 Great East Japan earthquake, Akihiko Tobe, general manager for Hitachi Ltd’s business and engineerin­g solutions division, said.

The 2009 earthquake disrupted water and power supply in affected areas. Elevators were shut down, stranding the elderly residents in high-rise buildings.

Thus, the area energy management system (AEMS), which predicts the energy supply and demand in the area and provides residents with up-to-date informatio­n, was instituted.

All informatio­n goes through the Kashiwa-no-ha Smart Center, which oversees energy operations for the community.

It monitors electricit­y use in residences, commercial facilities, and offices.

Tobe said the goal of the city was to optimize energy use and take advantage of the available renewable resources using solar panels, wind power equipment, well-water and rain water.

It likewise cuts down its CO2 emissions by drawing on waste biogas, exhaust heat from cogenerati­on systems and other untapped energy.

In one lot where bicycles and electric cars are parked, the residents of the smart city are free to use its multivehic­le sharing ser- vice, an environmen­tally friendly setup that leverages ICT (informatio­n and communicat­ion technology) to ensure the proper use of automobile­s, bicycles, and other personal means of getting around, as well as public buses and trains.

Tobe said the Kashiwa-no-ha developmen­t would be carried out in two stages.

With the first stage already complete, the city will be expanded to include the National Cancer Hospital East, Kashiwa-no-ha Campus of Chiba University, and Konbukuro Pond Natural Museum Park.

Expansion program

For Hitachi, the Philippine­s is an important market in Asia, having a “strong and stable economy,” Nakanishi said in a press briefing with reporters.

“The current president said the Philippine economy is very strong. I think so, too,” Nakanishi said.

The Japanese CEO noted that infrastruc­ture projects would be “the first step” in the company’s partnershi­p with the Philippine­s.

Hitachi establishe­d its presence in the Philippine­s in 1930, when it delivered the first 60HPhydro turbine to a power station in Davao. From 1930 to 1960, it has been supplying generation equipment and power transforme­rs to the Philippine­s.

At present, it has 11 sales units in the Philippine­s, with 2,733 employees.

Nakanashi noted Hitachi’s interest in participat­ing in the Philippine government’s plan to improve the transporta­tion network in Metro Manila.

“On the case of the subway, we have already started the discussion­s on making clearer feasibilit­y studies about that,” he said.

Nakanishi explained that Hitachi had a clear advantage in building and managing railway systems.

In September this year, Hitachi opened a train factory in the United Kingdom as part of its contract under the British Intercity Express Programme.

Employing 700 people, it will produce trains for the East Coast Main Line and Great Western Main Line as well as AT200 commuter trains for Scotland.

“We are keen on the Philippine­s. We are looking at railways because that is one of our core businesses,” Konno said.

Hopefully, that will just be the first of many sectors that will benefit from Hitachi’s avowed success in innovation.

 ?? NIÑA P. CALLEJA ?? SOCIAL Innovation Forum at the Tokyo Internatio­nal Forum
NIÑA P. CALLEJA SOCIAL Innovation Forum at the Tokyo Internatio­nal Forum
 ?? NIÑA P. CALLEJA ?? OPEN MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
NIÑA P. CALLEJA OPEN MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
 ??  ?? Hitachi CEO Nakanishi (above)
Hitachi CEO Nakanishi (above)

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