An Overview of the Current Status of the Japanese Maintenance Market
The Japanese plant maintenance industry supports the domestic manufacturing industry, which has over 500 billion euro of GDP. The plant maintenance industry has been growing steadily for years, as has the domestic manufacturing industries as result of the economic growth in China and South East Asia.
According to a recent report from the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the Japanese manufacturing industry is expected to grow for the coming three years. The Japanese maintenance market stands at about 91 billion Euros and 70 percent of the maintenance costs are spent on the production assets as reported by the Japanese Institute of Plant Maintenance (JIPM). Japanese manufacturers requiring maintenance service for their plants are spread around the world. According to a survey done by JIPM, they particularly concentrate in South East Asia and China, followed by North America and Europe (Figure 1).
Like other developed countries, the main issues in the Japanese plant maintenance sector these days are as follows: 1. Integration with the latest technology, 2. Ageing assets, 3. Shortage of skillful workers. In this article, Finland-based LignoGate summarizes the status of the plant maintenance sector in Japan based on public reports and government announcements.
IIoT for Asset-Maintenance and Predictive Analysis
Recent developments in smart sensors and the processing of big data have increased the need for integration of new technology and existing operational and maintenance tasks. This area sup-ported by advanced computer science is actively ongoing and rapidly developing in the Plant Maintenance sector in Japan. For example, in the last Plant Maintenance Show in Tokyo held in July 2018, it could be seen that major vendors are concentrating on IIoT for predictive-maintenance. It is obvious that more attention has recently been paid to IIoT technology from their customers, particularly in the management level of the plant operation as shown in a survey summarized in Figure 2.
In the survey, the interests are focused on wearable devices, network systems and AI technology rather than Robotics and Drone technology, which means that the technology that can be easily integrated to current operation and maintenance is more favoured (Figure 3).
Even though interest for the new technology is growing in the industries, one of the major Japanese vendors mentions that 40 percent of their customers are not willing to invest in new technology like IIoT. A possible explanation for this is that it is still unclear for the management level to see the obvious benefits on investments in the new technologies in certain maintenance tasks and process controls. Since application of the IIoT technology in plant operation and maintenance is rather complicated, it requires the combination of the conventional knowledge and experience in the management of the plant as well as the understanding of ICT and the new technology based on computer science. It can therefore be assumed that not many plant operation and maintenance units can immediately see the appropriate cost benefits without support from external consultation. In some cases, it is a demanding task to judge whether or not the IIoT investment is applicable for a certain subsidy. To make the right decision for this type of task requires multidiscipline knowledge and experience including ICT system and IIoT applications.
Managing ageing plants is another issue in the production plant operation. A forecast published by a Japanese industrial trade magazine claims that for example, more than 50 percent of domestic ethylene plants will have been in operation for 50 years by the year 2022. The demand for maintenance work would still increase due to ageing assets, while the number of the plants in Japan has decreased in recent years. Aged assets in general need additional maintenance and supervision to maintain the adequate safety and competitive production performance. The importance of predictive-maintenance solutions based on big-data analytics such as data mining and AI technology is therefore growing. On the other hand, the number of personnel on site has decreased over the last decades due to the automation of the process and the outsourcing of certain maintenance work. This trend emphasizes the role of new technology and data analysis in maintenance work.
Shortage of Skilled Workers and Ageing Population
With an increase in required skill and knowledge for plant maintenance, having appropriate technical specialists is essential, especially in new technologies like ICT, IIoT and data analysis. According to a recent METI report, over 75 percent of companies in the Japanese manufacturing industry require a higher number of skilled data scientists and ICT experts. Expectations for the manager level personnel are more demanding and versatile. Japan is one of the fastest ageing countries in the world. More than 25 percent of the population is over the age of 65, resulting in falling birth-rates and a rising mortality rate. It is of general concern in Japan that this will lead to a severe shortage of skilled and younger personnel. The ageing population has been recognized for a decade and the situation is becoming gradually more and more severe. In the maintenance sector, the ratio of certified personnel has decreased in recent years (Figure 4).
The issue is not only simply a lack of workforce, but also a potential failure of information transfer between experienced personnel and young personnel on technical knowledge and experience. In addition, the frequency of practical troubleshooting tends to decrease on site due to highly automated systems. In other words, there is a lack of opportunity for new personnel to learn suitable solutions and approach from their day-to-day operations. The potential damage and costs, therefore, might be tremendous once this happens.
Actions Taken by the Japanese Government and a Coming Up Event
As the demand for new technologies has increased, large investments have been made in the integration of the technologies by the Japanese government. In 2017, the government funded 66 million Euros for a project called Advanced Integrated Intelligence Platform (AIP) aimed at innovations in AI technology, Big-data, IoT and Cyber security. Recently the government has also released a new concept framework which is so-called “Connected industry”, a kind of Japanese version of Industry 4.0 in Germany aiming to create new added value and the solutions to various problems by connecting machines, systems and companies. The plant safety management is one of the five priority fields in the concept. Research funding and subsidies will be available for the relevant projects in due course.
For next year, Maintenance Resilience TOKYO 2019 is coming up on 24-26.7.2019, which is an exhibition for the technology in Plant Maintenance ( https://www.jma.or.jp/mente/index. html) . This is the largest exhibition for Plant Maintenance industry in Japan, which is held annually and where advanced technology for plant maintenance will be demonstrated.
Author of this article: Akio Yamamoto, D.Sc. (Tech.), Specialist in Forest products technology at LignoGate
Dr. Yamamoto has more than 10 years’ experience in Chemical engineering and Forest products technology. His career started in pulp and paper R&D as a Chemical research engineer, where he was involved in the development of an on-line chemical analyzer for pulp and paper plants. His expertise includes Pulp and Paper technology, Process technologies, equipment and systems and IPRs in these fields. Recently he has primarily supported SMEs and large enterprises on market analysis for the Japanese market and consulting on finding their potential business partners in Japan.
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