Electric Motors are the “Rice” of Industry

Nidec founder Shigenobu Nagamori has a singular focus on “everything that spins and moves”.

Wrapping up a week’s visit with a motor manufacturer client, one of my biggest takeaways is the intense Japanese focus on one’s chosen industry and the culture of respect and politeness honed over thousands of years that elevates the customer to a god-like position. This single-minded dedication made me think back a few years ago to a fascinating Financial Times interview with perhaps the single most important person in the electric motor industry today and how he puts the growth of our industry into proper perspective.

Shigenobu Nagamori is the founder, Chairman and CEO of Nidec Corporation, a $27 billion company that lays claim to the title of the world’s No.1 comprehensive motor manufacturer (full disclosure, not a client). In the interview Nagamori-san, referenced electric motors as the driving force, or colloquially as the “rice” of today’s industry. He noted that a half century ago it was steel; over 25 years ago it was semiconductors; and today the billions of ubiquitous electric motors, found most everywhere you look — and if not now, likely soon.

Started in a shed with three of his colleagues in 1973, Nidec’s dramatic growth is directly attributable to Nagamori’s complete dedication to the electric motor industry along with the development and implementation of his “3Q6S” management principles. You can learn more in the entertaining and informative manga book (graphic novel) titled, “The Man Hotter Than the Sun“.

As I sit in the departure lounge enjoying complimentary sushi and tea, I think about my own Japanese client and their singular dedication to the motor industry and how they compare to competitors in the West. Critical manufacturing operations like lamination stamping, die casting, heat treating and even paint finishing have been contracted out by some American and European motor manufacturers who viewed them as “non-core” and were glad to no longer make the required significant capital investment to bring them up to date. The Japanese, on the other hand, embrace as much vertical integration as possible in order to ensure not only quality but also containment of costs in order to be globally competitive.

Speaking of capital investment, it was very assuring to walk away from the client’s electric motor production facility with scores of robots deployed, while some in the industry are only starting to think about automation beyond just winding machines.

Furthermore, the Japanese incredible attention to detail and elevation of customers to god-like status produced quality and service level metrics that many others are still reaching for.

Sure, Japanese industry has had its lumps over the years. But there’s really something to be said about thousands of years of tradition that have delivered an enviable focus on politeness, personal responsibility, product enhancement, process improvement and principles. Profits are the payoff for a Japanese company that will harvest the “rice” for the growing industrial automation movement.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.