The Internet of Things, or IoT, which connects devices, vehicles and buildings via the Internet, is increasingly finding its way into Japan’s manufacturing sector.
Textile manufacturer Seiren Co. has installed virtual changing rooms in shops such as department stores, mainly in Tokyo. Shoppers can simulate wearing clothes of different sizes and patterns in front a large screen that is wirelessly connected to a tablet computer.
Seiren plants take orders via the Internet and start making the clothes to order. Shoppers receive the products about three weeks later.
To create the virtual changing room, the company adopted the innovative digital dyeing technology Viscotecs. The IoT system helps to reduce prices because it reduces inventory losses and thus costs, a Seiren official said.
Among other examples, construction machinery producer Komatsu Ltd. has developed a system that remotely controls hydraulic shovels.
Companies overseas, such as U.S. motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson Inc. and German sports clothing maker Adidas AG, also use IoT technology to meet customer needs more promptly and accurately.
IoT makes it possible to remotely control and automate production. In Germany, the application of the technology to the manufacturing industry is termed Industrie 4.0, suggesting a Fourth Industrial Revolution. In the automobile and other sectors, a public-private project is underway to connect plants and distribution networks to enhance productivity.
U.S. research firm Gartner Inc. estimates that IoT will generate sales gains, cost cuts and other economic benefits valued at $1.9 trillion in 2020, while noting that the technology will bring positive results especially to the manufacturing sector.
The government and industries are starting earnest efforts to catch up with the global trend toward IoT. In October, the IoT Acceleration Consortium was founded to promote technological development and trials through governmental, industrial and academic collaboration.
Some experts are voicing hopes that IoT will spark a new industrial revolution in Japan, which has a looming labor shortage amid its low birthrate and aging population.
As Japanese manufacturers have production systems unique to their groups, it is essential to build new structures that can smoothly connect them via the Internet.
In the United States and Europe, IoT is already used in a wide variety of sectors, including services industry and transportation infrastructure. Similar developments are expected to gather pace in Japan.