Reading time ( words)
Soichiro Fujita of MicroCraft sat for an interview recently, and we discussed what the current PCB market in Japan looks like from a Japanese supplier’s perspective. Fujita also shared the company’s strategies for combating copycat machines, and even copies of the copycats, which includes a healthy dose of acceptance. He also shared what technology trends he sees moving forward.
Barry Matties: Soichiro, please start by telling our readers a little bit about MicroCraft, and what the company does?
Soichiro Fujita: We're a Japanese manufacturing company that specializes in testers for PCBs and printers. Those are the two main products that MicroCraft sells. It's quite funny for a Japanese company, but maybe 70% of our customer base is overseas.
Matties: Why do you think that is?
Fujita: Typically, the Japanese culture, the Japanese people, are more of an inward society; at least that's how I see it. There are a lot of Japanese companies that go outside Japan, but usually when they make their product they make it internally first. They’ll release a product to the domestic market and if it goes well, then they will extend it to the international market. However, MicroCraft is focused more on the foreign side. When we develop the machine we tend to listen to our foreign customers from the USA and China markets. We listen to them and develop product placement and then we release the machine. With that in mind, what I find quite strange is when the total economy part comes in.
There was once a case, this was maybe two years ago, when the Japanese economy started to gradually go up, and in China and other countries the economies did not. At that point we had a problem; the rest of the Japanese companies were flourishing and for us it was not so good. Now we are getting increasing inquiries from foreign companies again and that is helping us boost our business. Japan, as a country, is kind of struggling right now. Abe’s three-pillar economic system isn't working out so well, so everybody's been kind of skeptical on whether he is the actual savior of Japan or not. Time will tell, but so far this year for us has been a good one.
Matties: You were saying that it's an inward society, and my understanding is that it's starting to open up and as a whole, Japan is recognizing that it can do some manufacturing in China and other places. Is that attitude changing? Is there a shift in philosophy?
Fujita: It's a business decision to go outside Japan, as you can purchase cheaper labor or larger factories compared to inside Japan.
Matties: There's that, but it also gives you more stability economically in times of domestic crisis, like when the disaster at Fukushima occurred. From my understanding, it was because the supply lines were so internal that it was such a crippling blow. At that point they realized, again from my limited understanding, they had to build relationships outside Japan as well.
Fujita: That’s true. I do think there is a change of philosophy. Like Toyota is trying to move out of Japan and into the States— they're trying to move their headquarters to Texas. Seeing that kind of decision, in general, I think the mindset is to go outside of Japan, but it's very late compared to many other countries. Japan has finally come to this point.
Matties: Primarily your equipment is in printing, test and inspection, and as I'm walking through this HKPCA show here in Shenzhen, China, I see a lot of Chinese testers, some of which look just like yours. What do you say to that?
Fujita: I mean, in one case it's an absolute copy. It's a reverse-engineered machine from one of our former customers. At the beginning, yes, we were upset and we tried to counter it with legal action to stop the release of the copied machines.
Matties: That's almost pointless.
Fujita: Yes, as you know, it's China, so it was pointless. Now what we have done is we have invested in a security system of the machine so that it's not as easy to copy. Even if they copy it, it won't run. With all of our machines this action has been taken, and that is why you don't see our later models being copied—only our older models.
Matties: That had to be satisfying to be able to find an answer to the problem, because today it's really about software, isn't it?
Fujita: It is. The software part is extremely difficult. When we were trying to take legal action, the Chinese government requested that in order for us to go to the next step of the hearing, MicroCraft must submit all of our main software. That was very upsetting. That’s when we gave up. It was no use any more, so we used that money to instead increase the security of the machine itself.
Matties: Advancement in technology, making sure you're always evolving your technology, is another limiting factor for copycats. It's hard for them to keep pace.