October 16, 2020

A Visionary's Perspective - Unraveling the Innovations and Corporate Management Philosophy of OMRON through the Thoughts of OMRON's Founder, Kazuma Tateishi

Episode 4 : Kazuma’s vision and "Social Needs Theory" that created automation market in Japan.

In this series of articles with 8 episodes, we trace the thoughts and speculations of OMRON's founder, Kazuma Tateishi, a rare technologically minded executive, and looks at the background to his growth and business philosophy.

In this fourth installment, we discuss the difficulties Kazuma faced in opening up the automation market, which was a nonexistent market in Japan, and his unique marketing sense blossomed in overcoming these difficulties. How did Kazuma create automation technology and products and popularize in Japan in the early 1950s, when only a few people knew it conceptually?

The difficulty of selling products and searching for a market that is relevant today

A company's healthy growth requires that it always exploits new markets and develop technologies and sell products that lead those markets. This is what companies are trying to do every day in this age of plenty and contentment, when we are overflowing with goods and even new products are no longer easy to sell.

However, this trend is nothing new, and even though the social situation is different, it has always been a challenge that come with running a business. Kazuma Tateishi also had the same problem. As the post-war devastation of Japan's industries began to recover and the economy rebuilt, Kazuma continued to search day and night for new markets that can use his innovative technologies and sell products.

As a keen researcher, Kazuma pored over various books and participated in research groups on business, medicine, science, and other areas that he thought were worthy of study, while pondering the needs of people and society. One day in 1952, while his days of researching were going on, he received an important information that would lead to a great leap forward for OMRON. It was from the meeting of the "Ochibo-kai" with Yoichi Ueno, a pioneer of "Nohritsu : The Way of Efficiency" (*1), whom Kazuma admired.

Encountering automation that attracted Kazuma

It was the concept of automation. Mr. Ueno said, "These days, in the United States, there is something called an automated factory. It's an advanced technology that allows you to put raw materials into a machine in an unmanned factory, and the machine will produce great products. The upcoming products must be designed based on the automation." Kazuma was fascinated by this technology. And he realized that in order to develop such an automation factory, he needs to invent micro switches, relays, timers, and other control equipment.

Even if we hear the same story, the way we receive it is different for each person. When Kazuma heard about automation, he created a framework in his mind to put it into practice instead of simply admiring it. It is because he keeps his own brain highly sensitive every day and he believes that "in order to make use of valuable information, the receiver must have an awareness of the issues.". Fortunately, Tateishi Electric had already succeeded in developing control equipment for the automation and they were about time to explore new markets.

Then, Kazuma visited the U.S. the following year in 1953 to observe the electrical industry. By doing so, he thought he could feel certain that automation and the response to cybernetics (explained in the last episode) will succeed, which had impact on OMRON's future. That was his first trip to the U.S., and he stopped by the 8th International Exhibition of Instrumentation in Chicago, where he was able to observe American instrumentation and industrial measuring and control equipment for automation. He also visited several factories, where he saw automation in production floor and was convinced of the future potential of Tateishi Electric's development of automation control equipment.

Also, Kazuma had expectations for the promise of the transistor (semiconductor component) technology he had seen at the earlier exhibition, which led to the development of the "dream non-contact switch" and subsequent products using cybernation technology.

After returning from a tour with a great achievement, Kazuma immediately instructed the entire company to devote themselves to the development of control equipment as functional parts for automation.

Marketing development focused on social needs

As was the case with the enactment of the corporate motto, Kazuma also focused on educational activities in parallel with technological development in order to popularize the new concept of automation. Specifically, through the publication of enlightening newspapers such as "Autome (a Japanese notation of abbreviation for automation) News" and the holding of technical conferences, he increased the interest to the "Japanese automation market" through society and other companies and established it as a new market.

Also, Kazuma was willing to invest in technological development. He quickly purchased an electromagnetic oscillograph(*2), which were only be owned by a large company, and actively recruited university graduates in science and engineering to strengthen the company's research equipment and human resources.

Nevertheless, developing these products for a new markets is not an easy task. Although Kazuma observed the situation in the U.S., there are no examples in Japan, and everything has to be created and manufactured from scratch. On the other hand, proceeding product development could not be done without a concrete project.

That was why Kazuma came up with the "Social Needs Theory". This theory is a way of thinking that discovering as many latent and emerging social needs in society as possible, such as the signs of change in the world that lead to the creation of new technologies, products and systems, and develops products that satisfy those needs by being a pioneer.

Developing new product for those social needs will attract companies that have the same needs and sales will naturally increase. For this reason, Kazuma instructed the sales department to "not only sell the product, but also discover social needs in order to develop the next product to sell".

Japan's automation that has contributed to realize a prosperous life

The automation market at that time, was only conceptually known to the general public like the AI market today. However, with Kazuma's marketing sense, he was able to raise awareness of the need for widespread adoption and succeeded in uncovering the demand for automation by focusing on social needs. And by being a pioneer and creating Japan's first mass-produce relays, timers, switches, etc., which are essential for automation, he contributed to the establishment of the "Japanese automation market".

As a result, machines have replaced human work at production floor in Japan, reducing human error due to long working hours and improving work efficiency as well as safety at the same time. In this way, OMRON provided equipment that evolved production floor and contributed to improve productivity in the global manufacturing industry. OMRON continues to support people's prosperous lives to this day.

In the next episode, the fifth installment, we will discuss the world's first unmanned train station system into the field of railroads, the cornerstone of society's transportation infrastructure. It was developed by bringing the concepts of cybernation and automation, that we have touched on in the past.

*1: The concept of supporting the improvement of production efficiency and the revitalization of corporate activities
*2: Equipment to observe the waveforms of electrical signals