The 28th Japan International Machine Tool Fair (JIMTOF2018), one of the largest machine tool exhibitions in the world, took place at Tokyo Big Sight (Koto-ward, Tokyo) for six days from November 1 to 6, 2018. Over 150,000 people visited the Fair and enjoyed exhibitions by 1,085 companies in 5,524 booths, setting a new record in JIMTOF’s history. JIMTOF has become increasingly popular among overseas visitors. The number of overseas visitors increased 12.1% from the previous JIMTOF and reached 12,934. The event was particularly popular among 11,039 visitors from Asia (a 13% increase from the previous JIMTOF).

“Connect” was the theme of JIMTOF2018. Traditionally, JIMTOF was seen as an exhibition showcasing the latest products and technologies related to machine tools, forging machines, grinding wheels, gears and gear systems. While this remains the case, a new emerging trend was also found at JIMTOF2018. In addition to displaying the latest products, more and more exhibitors focused on demonstrating how their machines and devices can be connected.

“Connect” first emerged as a hot issue at the previous JIMTOF in 2016. Even prior to that, some efforts were made to visualize the operation of machine tools through a 3G network, but a major change took place in 2016 when Fanuc connected the machine tools of 80 exhibitors through its industrial IoT platform, FIELD system, and showed the operation status of connected machines during JIMTOF2016. Connect has since then become a major issue in the machine tool industry.

JIMTOF2018 went a step further. Some 300 machines of 72 companies were connected through an IoT platform and the operation status of each connected machine was displayed on the large screen at the special exhibit area. Tokyo Big Sight, the venue of JIMTOF, became one smart factory in a program aimed at highlighting the value of visualization.

“There are two layers of IoT. The first layer is ‘how’ we do it and the second is ‘what’ we want to do by connecting things,” said Mr. Yukio Iimura, Chairman of Japan Machine Tool Builders’ Association (JMTBA). “The issue of ‘how’ tends to attract much attention, but what really matters is the question of ‘what’. At JMTBA, we are working hard to move to the second layer as soon as possible.” This implies that the industry’s trend of connecting things will accelerate. Mr. Yoshiharu Inaba, Vice Chairman of JMTBA added, “Our aim is not to connect because this is what we already do. We need to go further and move from just connecting things to visualizing, making it more intelligent and eventually achieving the concept of a smart factory.”

Challenges remain, however, to actually implement “connect” in manufacturing. Mr. Akimasa Ishikawa, Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, reportedly said, “It is important to expand the area of collaboration in line with the trend of adopting an open system. As a means of supporting this transition, an Act on Special Measures for Productivity Improvement was enforced in June 2018. The Act allows for the use of data owned by the Government. I would urge more companies to participate in this scheme.”

The IIoT Times has highlighted the importance and value of ubiquitous connectivity in manufacturing. More efforts and coordination by the Government as well as the private sector will be needed to accelerate the change and bring IIoT into reality.