Takashi Yunogami, a director of the Fine Processing Institute who was also invited to the Forum as a speaker, said that the culprit is clear. “The pursuit of excessive quality with excessive technology killed Japan.” Yunogami’s pet peeve is that Japan’s DRAM manufacturers who miraculously met mainframe computer companies’ stringent request to deliver DRAM with a 25-year guarantee remained oblivious to profound changes happening in the market place -- a shift to PCs from mainframe computers -- and kept supplying the same 25-year guaranteed DRAMs to PC companies. In contrast, Samsung came up with a lower-cost DRAM with a three-year guarantee “good enough” for PCs. That allowed the Korean giant to eat Japan’s lunch, Yunogami explained.
An executive from MegaChips, a fabless company based in Osaka, said that the Japanese semiconductor industry has been ailing because they have been too focused on chips they design and chips they make. Their failure to look beyond semiconductors is the biggest problem. The survival of the Japanese electronics industry is dependent on whether “we can offer vertically integrated services, which includes everything from algorithms, LSIs and applications,” he noted.
MegaChips has vowed to subscribe to MediaTek’s playbook -- keeping an eye on a fast-changing market with a relentless focus on the development of turnkey solutions. However, he added, “Our customers won’t be typical CE companies. Rather, we hope to go after companies who build housing and facilities/equipment inside the home, for example.” MegaChips hopes to work with customers who neither know anything about semiconductors nor understand the business-changing potential of chips. “Our plan is to offer them integrated turnkey solutions -- everything from chips to apps -- that they can embrace and run with.”
Forum members also discussed pros and cons of the rampant merger trend among Japan’s electronics companies -- often engineered by bureaucrats at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) -- as Japan’s industry policy.
Speaking of a new SoC company as a result of the merger of Fujitsu’s Semiconductor group and Panasonic’s SoC team, a Renesas engineer said that he sees neither synergy between the two nor the prospect of the merged company to grow. “There is no imperative to put the two together,” he said.
Many participants at the Forum predicted that the new Fujitsu/Panasonic SoC comapny won’t succeed, speculating that the only purpose of the JV is for Fujitsu to get funding from the state-backed Development Bank of Japan.
None of Japan’s merged ventures -- starting from Elpida to Renesas Technology and Renesas Electronics -- have been successful, partly due to the human factor, said Yunogami. No Japanese engineer is eager to work at a JV, he said.
Yunogami cited his own experience at Elpida, where he later discovered he was the only engineer who volunteered to move to Elpida. Everyone else had begged to stay at his respective parent company. Being transferred to a JV is a traumatic experience for Japanese employees because it amounts to a loss of personal identity, which is closely linked to the original company for which they vowed to work lifetime.
Japanese engineers, however, will soon find out that they have no choice but to shed this mindset and embrace a new -- adapt or be unemployed -- reality.
The Renesas engineer at the Forum noted, for example that he’s thinking about negotiating a spin-off business based on the IPs he and his team worked on at Renesas.
VeriSilicon CEO Dai asked him, “Are you willing to become a CEO and run that startup?” Well shy of uttering a resounding affirmation of his incipient entrepreneurism, the Japanese engineer said, “Well, I’ve started thinking about that.”
While heated debates enthused on various topics during the Forum and even after that, the following are five-point “predictions” the Japanese Semiconductor Executive Forum made before the meeting adjourned.
I agree with this. How can someone be creative when the work culture itself is sapping their creativity? The purpose of work should be to support one's family, not to completely overshadow it.
I notice I often get my most creative ideas not while I am at work, but when my mind is relaxing on the way home, when I can actually muse about certain things.
Consciousness evolved as part of a mechanism to more effectively interact with the organisms environment. Consciousness becomes heightened when when it becomes apparent that not all is working as one would want or expect.
Language evolved as one means to help interact with one's environment in social situations.
It's not unique to Japan. Things are changing and there's more discussion.
The US, and all of Western Europe. The reason is simple economics, really. If these western countries bring manufacturing back, it's because the manufacturing will mostly be done by robot machines. The next hurdle will be design, as those occupations migrate elsewhere too.
The hard part has always been the same, ever since the Industrial Revolution. In short, how do the displaced workers add value to society, once their previous occupations become extinct?
That's why you have to keep reinventing yourself, as a country but also as an individual engineer.
The most surprising thing in this article was the notion that Japanese engineers were gathered together and encouraged "to think and speak freely as individuals, not as corporate spokesmen," and that they did so. A generation ago, that might have been the most difficult part of the task.
I don't disagree with the system view at all. It seems clear, though, that if countries are viewed as components of that system, their function has to be allowed to change over time.
It sounds to me like Japan Inc. is attempting to remain where it was in the 1970s and 1980s, wrt consumer electronics. Or at least, that's what the frequent articles on EE Times keep suggesting. And I keep responding that Europe and the US have been through the same shift that Japan perhaps is fighting, and even China and South Korea are not immune to this evolution.
At the bottom of it is, competitiveness for providing individual functions, in this global system, changes constantly. If you're competitve in manufacturing today, you will not necessarily remain competitive tomorrow, because your standard of living may have changed.
Understand. But if your key customers are Japanese CE companies who don't need turnkey solutions but instead demand more tweaks and customizations, you could have totally missed the overwhelming trend in the global market.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.