What types of chemical reaction can we expect from encounters between new visions in urban mobility and cutting-edge digital fabrication?
For the answer, we turn to ROAD KITCHEN – a custom order service that brings such an innovative undertaking into the scope of reality.
In a word, using this service makes it possible to create your own special i-ROAD parts simply
by sitting down in front of your home PC or tapping on your smartphone.
Continuing from our previous installment, we delve further into what such innovations hold for the future
through interviews with two key figures at Kabuku Inc. – a partner in this service and an enterprise advancing product development and supporting services by mobilizing 3D printers and other state-of-the-art technologies.
We’re talking about Masahiko Inada, President of Kabuku, and his right-hand-man – industrial designer Yasuhide Yokoi.
Masahiko Inada, President & CEO, Kabuku Inc.
Native of Osaka Prefecture. Completed studies at the Graduate School of the University of Tokyo (Computer Science) in 2009. Within that program, Inada devoted his research to the field of artificial intelligence. Upon completing those studies he joined advertising giant Hakuhodo, where he was active in the new business development field. Inada has been honored with a number of prizes at Cannes, ADFEST, the London International Advertising Awards, TIAA and other occasions. He launched Kabuku in 2013. Major writings include Practical Usage Guide to 3D Printer.
Ongoing Advances in 3D Printers and the Future of Manufacturing
Question (Q): We’d like to start with mention of 3D printers, machines that are also being introduced in the “ROAD KITCHEN” service for customization of exterior parts used on the i-ROAD and other applications. What is the current global trend surrounding the technology in this area?
Masahiko Inada, Kabuku President: Regarding the 3D printer itself, up to now models produced primarily in the United States and Israel have tended to dominate the marketplace. When it comes to the patents for such technology, however, the rights for home-use 3D printers expired in 2009, followed by those for industrial types in 2014. This sparked a sudden surge in companies moving into the field anew, with the current industry landscape consisting of genuine leaps and bounds in the enhancement of the quality of the products themselves.
Q: Against such a backdrop, in what fields do the highest expectations lie for use of 3D printers from here on?
Inada: Areas like aerospace and healthcare, for sure. In terms of overseas examples, Boeing is mobilizing such printers in its manufacture of aircraft engines, fuselage parts and other products. In healthcare, the use of resin absorbable into the human body is changing the nature of treatments that have required embedding of bolts in the body up to now, essentially eliminating the need for bolts. On a separate front, due to problems with strength, surface finish quality and other areas, 3D printers have largely been used in place of molds in the past. Hand in hand with improvements in their precision, however, applications are also beginning to appear in the end products being manufactured. While drawbacks remain insofar as the speed remains sluggish, we expect such issues to be resolved quite soon.
Q: With that coming to pass, what type of developments can we expect on the immediate horizon?
Yasuhide Yokoi(Kabuku): Without a doubt, driven by the “do-it-yourself” perspective, mass production of high-precision final products will become feasible at the individual level. For example, we already make the supplies used in our offices with our own home-use 3D printer. It will almost certainly become realistic to use that same data, as is, to gear up to mass production with a single click.
Inada: Up to now, bringing an idea to the product stage required investing several million yen to build a mold, followed by setting the minimum lot manufacturing output. Under that scenario, it was always necessary to ponder if the resulting profit would be commensurate with such upfront costs. With that factor to vanish from the scene, the natural result will be the elimination of concerns over keeping inventory on hand.
Yokoi: At the same time, the degree of shaping latitude will also rise in dramatic fashion. With the conventional manufacturing method of using molds, the question of whether or not certain shapes can be smoothly extracted from those molds has been a factor limiting progress. With 3D printers eradicating any need to worry about such restrictions, it will prove possible to turn out shapes that are mechanically sound in every definition of the term.
Inada: With that technology in place, we are much more than a 3D printer manufacturer, or a mere output service. In a very real sense, we are creating the actual systems for mobilizing 3D printers and other digital fabrication to manufacture new products.
Yasuhide Yokoi, Industrial Designer, Kabuku Inc.
Raised in Australia, Yokoi is a graduate of Tama Art University. He initially went to work for optical instrument manufacturer Nikon, where he was assigned to the design division. There, in the capacity of an industrial designer, he engaged in a wide range of cross-sectional design activities, extending from design strategies for single-lens reflex cameras and other products through the mass production side of the business. He officially joined Kabuku in 2014. Yokoi has received the iF Design Award, the Red Dot Design Award and other accolades for his work.
3DChallenging the World with the Combination of 3D Printers and Japanese Artisan Skills
Q: So you have effectively undertaken the “ROAD KITCHEN” project development in the midst of this environment. What is your current take on that challenge?
Inada: I’m pleased to report that the project has created a considerable stir among the people involved in digital fabrication. They have voiced their excitement and outlook that the wave of creating final products with 3D printers has at last arrived in Japan as well.
Q: Why do you think that the infusion of 3D printers in Japan has lagged behind other parts of the world?
Inada: While restrictions on the legal front have been one factor, the established customs in the industry have posed a greater barrier. Besides the social backdrop characterized by a fear of failure, with mass production lying at the cornerstone of such undertakings the question is invariably asked of the degree to which individual projects can be advanced fluidly and trouble-free. With that mindset at work, there is a tendency to nix new ideas in the event that even the slightest amount of risk is seen as accompanying introduction of new technologies. Clearly, changes need to be made from the foundation of that thinking and beyond. Then again, that is just about always par for the course when innovation is involved. In my view, we need to initially take firm steps aimed at making this technology “relevant to today’s world.”
Q: With that thinking at work, the cutting edge state of “ROAD KITCHEN” as a new departure shines even more brightly.
Yokoi: I agree. With the big company approach to mass-produced items, the general pattern is to begin by drawing sketches and then convening board meetings to hammer out decisions at each and every phase of the ensuing work. With this project, in contrast, the accelerating speed of the prototyping facilitated with the 3D printer, along with our flexible development structure, has enabled us to complete tasks normally requiring one to two years in a matter of six months or less. The speed of this achievement also proved surprising to a car designer friend of mine, who praised us for being so “ruthlessly aggressive” in our style.
Q: Conversely, have you come to sense new potential in the abilities of Japanese manufacturing?
Inada: First and foremost, Japanese manufacturing consists of technological prowess overwhelmingly driven by individual artisans. In this project, for example, we turned to the craftsmen of the famed Tsubame-Sanjo district of Niigata Prefecture for the final polishing of our parts. Frankly speaking, machine processing is simply no match for the quality that such artisans can deliver. Not to mention the stellar drive they devote to truly maximizing the final quality of each and every piece. There is simply nothing overseas that holds a candle to this caliber. When it comes to such technical expertise and reliability, Japan has no peer anywhere in the world.
Yokoi: To tell the truth, in the run up to the decision to turn to the craftsmen of Tsubame-Sanjo, it wasn’t us that proposed such an approach. It was within the give and take with the factory, rather, that the suggestion surfaced to the effect that, “Without the proper polishing, adequate quality simply won’t be realized.” In any event, Japan is clearly in a class of its own in terms of the lofty levels for setting quality goals.
Inada: As it turned out, the quality of the final products was awesome. The perception, for example, that using the same printer will guarantee uniform final quality is totally off base. In terms of sensory value, the quality of the final 20% of the work – that is, the work comprising the back-end manufacturing process – generates a difference of 80%. You’ll be hard pressed to find that degree of quality anywhere overseas. With the eyes of Japanese consumers, who have grown so accustomed to this “Made-in-Japan” excellence, so unforgiving, the standards of quality are incredibly high. Joining hands with Japanese factories, workplaces that have honed their skills with such demands first in mind, also holds the key to reaping a devastating competitive edge when doing battle on the global market.
Q: That outlook has led to your collaboration with an automaker on this occasion. What types of discoveries or insights have you garnered from that?
Yokoi: For one, the realization that the automobile is a product that lends itself to personalizing, in view of forging stronger bonds with individual users, to a greater degree than what is found in personal computers or smartphones. For example, I would venture to say that most everyone, sometime in their lives, has entertained the notion of associating someone’s character with the type of car that they drive. Viewed in that light, it is my impression that the affinity between automobiles as products and what might be called “personal customization,” is far above that found in the customizing of today’s mainstream smartphone cases.
Inada: The automobile is the virtual icon of Japanese manufacturing, and a product inspiring to men and women of all ages and walks of life. The opportunity to be a part of this project, which can also be labeled as a bold new departure, has been a great honor and a thrilling experience for us all. We feel energized to carry on the quest to do everything in our power to supply customization defined by the capacity to earn the heartfelt devotion of our customers from here on as well.
(To be continued in Part 3,
when we inquire about the upcoming horizons of those involved in the “ROAD KITCHEN” project)
PROTOTYPING REPORT back issue
Make Manufacturing More Open, and Society Will Be More Fun
Interview with Masahiko Inada, CEO of Kabuku (Vol. 01)
INTERVIEW BY Keita Fukasawa (contributor)
TEXT BY Keisuke Kagiwada (contributor)
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Kazuharu Igarashi
ISSUED ： 6 October 2015