November 24, 2022
A New Era of Devices and Modules As Ushered in by Solutions
Shizuto Yukumoto Managing Executive Officer Company President, Device & Module Solutions Company
OMRON Corporation is accelerating its drive to resolve social issues through its business, with a view toward realizing an ideal society as conceived of in SF2030(Shaping the Future), the Group's new long-term vision launched in April 2022. Based on the new business vision, how and what each employee are thinking and working in ther day-to-day work to ahieve this goal? Device & Module Solutions Business, the founding business of OMRON, is striving to enhance the capability to assist customers in solving their issues through device- and module-based solutions. Shizuto Yukumoto, Managing Executive Officer and Company President, Device & Module Solutions Company, OMRON Corporation, was joined by a top executive from Weathernews Inc., one of their collaborators, as well as younger employees from the two companies, in a discussion on how OMRON goes about creating value through collaboration with its partners, which took place at the Weathernews Headquarters in Chiba City.
Focused on the Realization of Carbon Neutrality and a Digitial Society
Pursue Business Transformation
Yukumoto: In April this year, OMRON kicked off its new long-term vision, SF2030 (Shaping the Future 2030)--We Will Continue to Create "Innovation Driven by Social Needs" Through Automation to Empower People. Under SF2030, we set a goal for ourselves of solving the three social issues of "achievement of carbon neutrality," "implementation of a digital society," and "extension of healthy life expectancy."
Of the three social issues that are dictated by the long-term vision, DMS will focus on the "achievement of carbon neutrality" and "implementation of a digital society," in order to create social value that contributes to the spread of new energy and high-speed communication.
Everyone involved in the DMS is firmly determined to leverage its core competencies of "connecting" and "switching" technologies to transform the business into one that provides customers with device- and module-based solutions that give them the functions they need while addressing societal challenges. It was with this in mind that we renamed our company responsible for the electronic components business from the Electronic and Mechanical Components Business Company to the Device & Module Solutions Company (DMS) this past April.
Now, we aim to realize a set of three transformations during the SF2030 period.
First, we will make ours a more solution-oriented business; we will combine our core technologies with various functions to maximize product value and provide customers with the functions they need in the form of device- and module-based solutions.
Since OMRON's foundation, "connecting" and "switching" technologies have remained a core of our technological assets. We started with switches and relays, which turn the flow of electricity on and off, and then came sensors. Modules are combinations of such devices. Hideaki Kojima, who is working with Weathernews to develop weather sensor , is working on modules at DMS.
Kojima: OMRON has a wealth of sensor technologies, such as proximity and photomicro sensors using electromagnetic and optical technology, respectively. What our team is doing is combining these individual core competencies and technologies to build modules.
We also combine these with proprietary algorithms to achieve face detection technology.
Yukumoto: Our second transformation is aimed at resolving social issues in the four focus domains of DC drive equipment, DC infrastructure equipment, high-frequency devices, and remote/VR devices. And the third one is to offer three new values of "green, digital, and speed."
Yukumoto: As reflected in our new company name, we will transform ours into a more solution-oriented business and will provide device- and module-based solutions that help customer businesses resolve their issues. At the end of collaborative activities, formulating it as a solution is created jointly with customer businesses .
Weathernews is one such customer business with whom we are working most closely in the realm of solution business. Currently, we are jointly developing a solution (service) for a new weather sensor, which integrates OMRON's hardware technology with Weathernews' expertise in software development and provision of software services, such as a weather forecasting system and relevant services. Our goal is to realize carbon neutrality.
Working together, OMRON and Weathernews are developing more accurate weather forecasting services that safeguard the well-being of the people the world over by increasing energy efficiency and reducing the risks associated with natural disasters.
Ishibashi: The Origin of Weathernews is "I want to protect the lives of mariners." "I want to help in time of crisis." -- Weathernews, too, started with the aim of addressing this social issue.
True to our management principle of "assist our Supporters in their times of need " we offer services that help enhance customers' safety, as well as economic efficiency, by providing weather information. As of now, we have expanded our services to include aerial and ground services in addition to maritime services.
For us to continue providing highly accurate weather forecasts, we need to gather as much information on the current weather conditions as possible. Hence the need to have observation data from an accurate weather sensor.
When it comes to a system for gathering observation data in Japan, we have the Automated Meteorological Data Acquisition System, or AMeDAS for short, which is operated by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA). AMeDAS comprises some 1,300 data-gathering stations throughout Japan. We can also avail ourselves of meteorological data from satellites and the like, but these are not enough for us to provide our services comfortably.
Weathernews maintains a network comprising 13,000 locations across the country, including our proprietary weather observation devices (weather sensors). Our full-time engineers make the most of cutting-edge information technology to reflect data gathered by weather observation devices, as well as reports from app users on their local weather and body sensory information, on our unique forecast model, thus achieving the highest forecast accuracy*1. Thanks to these highly-accurate and high-resolution forecast data, we are able to provide corporate and individual customers with services that help them avoid weather risks.
*1 Tokyo Shoko Research, Ltd. survey (current as of June 2022)
As we deployed weather sensors nationwide, we introduced OMRON's portable weather observation device, WxBeacon2, in 2017. This palm-sized sensor is capable of gathering six elements of meteorological observation data, namely, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, light, UV index, and noise. By distributing this sensor to our users throughout the country to reflect more observation data on our forecasting, we are working to further enhance our forecast accuracy.
Because the sensor had a positive reputation, we thought we might as well team up with OMRON to benefit from their expertise in sensor development.
We put trust in OMRON's exceptional technological prowess, and our corporate philosophies have something in common since they both dictate that we tackle social issues through business. We also empathize with OMRON's agility in addressing possible social and environmental changes and their PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) approach to quality improvement. These are among the many reasons we are collaborating with OMRON.
"Weathernews started with 'a mission-driven'." (Ishibashi)
Yukumoto: OMRON's control technology allows us to excel at assisting Weathernews in collecting weather data: Input from sensors, provision of data as output, and control of data. Controlling and processing data thus acquired to put them to use. Not just increasing the number of sample data but also fit functions that customers need to a given application and output them is important. Having taken a customer-oriented approach to this process, OMRON is capable of putting together these functions into compact devices and modules at reasonable cost. How much reliable data can be collected in real time is critical to the success of Weathernews' business.
We are confident in our ability to support them adequately, and we feel that having this opportunity to collaborate with Weathernews is highly significant.
Moving with Agility in a Flat Organization for the Benefit of Society
Ensuring Access to Quality Data / Supporting its Utilization
Kojima: In my capacity as a development project leader, I ensure that all the functions at OMRON, including development, sales, and production, are aligned. Working concurrently with Weathernews to accelerate the commercialization process, we are developing modularized a weather sensor that combine temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and other sensing devices with our proprietary algorithms and communication technology.
This is a perfect example of what DMS is doing in line with the SF2030 vision: creating modules that realize functions society and customers need.
Weather Sensor under Joint Development between OMRON and Weathernews
Ultimately, at the bottom of each development team member's heart is the desire to meet customer businesses' expectations with device- and module-based solutions and, in so doing, serve society . Working on weather sensors, we can collect more detailed observation data, which helps to raise the accuracy of Weathernews' forecasting. And we wish to join hands with customer businesses in doing something to address climate change, which presents one of the social issues we are facing.
To capitalize on our two companies' strengths, OMRON collects data with high accuracy, controls the data thus collected, and then uploads it to the cloud, so that Weathernews can focus on devising how to utilize the data by creating value and service out of it.
"Our goal is to meet the expectations of our customers with device- and module-based solutions." (Kojima)
Fujino: I'm responsible for creating value out of data. In other words, I use artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and other techniques to analyze the weather data on, for example, atmospheric pressure and precipitation, gathered by weather sensors and other devices, to increase the accuracy of forecast data.
How we can generate quality data and how much quality data we possess is the key to the process of "creating value out of data."
As we process quality data, we will very occasionally encounter "noise," which is an abnormal observation data, such as a record-breaking maximum instantaneous wind speed. Such data are impossible under normal conditions, making us data analysts wonder whether the data is correct since we cannot explain how it has come about; perhaps a fault in the device could explain it, but how can we verify the dataat all?
We have to double-check the integrity of such data and need to remove any "incorrectly taken" values from the data pool that we use to make a forecast, which, I must say, is rather cumbersome.
We do understand, however, that we cannot eliminate abnormal data completely. And so we are constantly required to make quick decisions about how we should treat such data, though they are luckily rare. Maintaining close communication with OMRON on a daily basis, we can count on them to share knowledge and expertise about the hardware they have cultivated and provide us with adequate support, which I believe gives us great strength to understand the mechanism of "noise" and how to deal with it.
We pride ourselves on our company being the "first call" for customers who have problems with the weather in Japan. As such, if we work closely with OMRON to enhance the integrity of our systems, we should be able to provide higher quality, more reliable weather sensors. By utilizing observation data from such sensors, we are hoping to offer solutions to societal issues. Going forward, we wish to create novel services that cater to specific needs in a variety of markets, including railway, aviation, distribution, and agriculture.
"Weathernews is the first call for customers who have problems with the weather in Japan." (Fujino)
Kojima: Happy to hear that. I agree with you wholeheartedly. When we have any questionable data, we can get together to discuss what we should do with it and make our sensors better. In so doing, we hope to enhance the integrity of the system as a whole.
After all, it all boils down to if we can act with urgency and agility in response to sudden changes--in this case, abnormal values. If we can share this motive, we should be able to make things happen.
Yukumoto: True. I second the importance of agility when responding to abnormal values. Such efforts are being made at our Module Development Department, of which Kojima is a member.
Things like speed and innovation are crucial for companies that are at the forefront of service provision, like Weathernews. We must learn from them and respond to their need with agility. To make this happen, we need a flat organization that facilitates good communication between management and those in the field.
And I want people in younger generations to always act spontaneously to bring about innovation. I want to see them take risks to do whatever they want to and enjoy doing what they're doing. Whatever they end up doing, however, I want them to always be aware that they're doing it for social service. OMRON's management is more than willing to provide such opportunities so that we can address social issues through business, which in turn enhances the value of our business as a whole.
Ishibashi: Agility and speed--These are some of the most important concerns for people like us, providing forecasts of the weather that changes from day to day.
Because of recent climate change, the weather forecast model is constantly being forced to change. Be it typhoons' expected impact or cherry blossom forecasts, past models no longer work. No rules or models are sustainable as the weather is so changeable.
What this means is that we have to keep making changes.
"Agility" matters within the company and in partnership between businesses. If we can coordinate our mutual goals to mitigate climate change and unite our efforts in developing solutions to this social challenge while maintaining frequent communication, I believe that we can reach an optimal solution sooner than later.
Kojima: Actually, as we engage in various joint development projects, we make it a rule to communicate closely and with agility. We typically start by making a prototype and polish it together through discussions. And I believe what is required most for this approach is the willingness to collaborate. Do what you've never tried before in new fields and take one new initiative after another. In this time when changes are taking place so rapidly, such a mindset will assume greater importance. With horizontal and vertical layers collaborating in a flat organization to keep moving with agility, we hope to create better products with haste.
For example, if we can further improve the sensing function, we can take detailed data such as the size of raindrops in addition to precipitation levels. I also think it would be wonderful to utilize the communication system and the global positioning system (GPS), on top of weather sensors, to create new services.
Fujino: That's a great idea! Speaking of Weathernews, we are taking flexible approaches such as verifying feasibility by actually creating a simplified version of the product. We are more than happy and willing to take on a multitude of new challenges with OMRON.
"At the bottom of our hearts is the desire to serve society." (Yukumoto)
Yukumoto: I agreed with Mr. Ishibashi when he said that it is essential in this fast-changing world to keep enhancing the capability to create solutions by coordinating our goals. Offering solutions to the social issue of climate change for the good of society--Because of this underlying wish, we can unite as one to provide highly-accurate weather data sooner. This helps to mitigate the risks associated with typhoons and other natural disasters. Viewed on a global scale, utilizing weather data can bring forth solutions that curb energy loss. Through the business with Weathernews, we will contribute to solve societal issues. Beyond the service made possible by our joint efforts, we hope to further cement the ties between our two companies to create novel value and do so with agility in a flat relationship.
And I would like to see solutions made possible by OMRON's devices and modules maximize the functions of products that incorporate such solutions and the value we provide to society. We will certainly work harder to offer the added value of "OMRON inside."
Creating New Value Based on Future Projections
"Our goal is to bring forth new services." (Fujino [Left] and Kojima)
Open to Discussing the Future of Weather Forecasts
Kojima: In its new long-term vision, SF2030, OMRON made it clear that "We Will Continue to Create Innovation Driven by Social Needs Through Automation to Empower People." What this means to the DMS is that I want to shape a future where human potential is given full play as we utilize data gathered from sensors and other devices and create new services alongside customers.
We are also open to discussing the future of weather forecasting or how and what it can be in our endeavors with Weathernews, so that we can share the future that we shape together.
Fujino: We would like to do that also! Every day, we receive as many as 180,000 local weather reports from our users. When asked something like, "How is flood damage there?" they reply by saying, "We are inundated up to the knees or ankles." This is an example of our communication with our users.
We literally generate weather forecast data with users, and this data network is the source of our strength.
If we can add OMRON's hardware to our extensive network, we should be able to create more innovative solutions.
Kojima: Beyond merely delivering hardware that meets customer specifications, we are more than happy to exchange ideas, bearing in mind what data our products should sense to maximize convenience and value for Weathernews and other users. If we think this way, I believe there is no end to the things we can generate and solve.
Fujino: I'm excited about the prospect of us taking a trial-and-error approach so we can create new services in fields other than weather data.
Kojima: Great! Let us bring about more solutions (services) to social and customer issues through "flat and agile" communication!
Speakers at the Round-Table Talk (from right; second right is Shizuto Yukumoto)
Hideaki Kojima: Electrical Development Group 2, Module Development Department, Product Development Division, Business Management Division HQ, Device & Module Solutions Company, OMRON Corporation.
Project manager for the development of weather sensor with Weathernews Inc.
Tomohiro Ishibashi: Director, Senior Managing Executive Officer, Weathernews Inc. Mobile・Internet-Planning, Climate Tech Planning, and Business Planning.
Junpei Fujino: Working at WNI Forecast Center.
In charge of the process of creating value in the form of a weather forecast service by analyzing weather observation data using AI, machine learning, and other techniques.