Product Development as a Trading Company - The Start-up Power Assist System "VEAS"
Product Development as a Trading Company - The Start-up Power Assist System "VEAS"
VEAS is a start-up power assist system developed by Hokusho Co., Ltd. By mounting this device on a vertical reciprocating transfer machine (Autolator), the electrical storage device offers a power assist during the ascending operation of the counterweight, performing a peak-cut for the equipment-side power. Additionally, the regenerative energy (*1) generated during the descending operation is pulled into the electrical storage device to be reused when providing a power assist. Through these functions, this product achieves economic efficiency and energy conservation to significantly reduce running costs (*2). ITO Corporation participated as a part of the development team for this revolutionary product, which is a world’s first in logistics systems.
(*1) Energy generated, with the motor itself serving as the generator when the motor is rotated due to a load. (*2) It is possible to reduce a maximum of 40% for the equipment power source capacity and a maximum of 38% for power consumed.
An Unexpected Opportunity Born From Past Work Together
Joint development began in 2007. Mr. Uesugi from ITO Corporation, who would later become the individual in charge of VEAS, was initially performing business activities regarding converters for Hokusho. Uesugi was blessed one day with the opportunity to meet staff from the procurement department, rather than the development and design departments to which he had typically been assisting regarding product performance PR. While he had mainly been promoting the product performance of invertors, the procurement department instead displayed interest in applications for the inverters. The person responsible for the design of VEAS recalls the initial chain of events as follows.
"We had already begun the development project within our company, but as a high performance inverter was crucial for VEAS, we had reached a stalemate regarding its selection. We eventually received a report from the procurement department, who had seen a proposal from ITO Corporation. Because we could immediately recognize the high technical capabilities of the product, we immediately felt that it would match with VEAS and so we wanted to have a further discussion." (Hokusho Representative)
Although this was a great opportunity earned through long, hard work, even Uesugi was surprised by the unexpected inquiry.
"I reaffirmed the importance of conveying the value of the products from an overall perspective, such as exploring what can the product be applied to and understanding what was Hokusho truly seeking, rather than simply promoting the product’s quality. I believe that Hokusho was able to rediscover the value of inverters as a product." (Uesugi)
What is meaningful is to place yourself in the customer’s perspective and consider what solutions and value can be provided by a product. As a sales representative, Uesugi reconfirmed his purpose. The procurement department then introduced him to the person in charge of the design of VEAS. This led to full-fledged progress toward the new challenge of the joint development of VEAS.
Acting as Producer and Ensuring Smooth Communication
A total of 5 companies were assembled in the project team: Yaskawa Electric (developer of the inverter), Trytec (developer of the “DC/DC converter” charge and discharge control apparatus technology, the capacitor manufacturer in charge of improving the electrical storage device, Hokusho, and ITO Corporation. ITO Corporation, the only trading company in the team, took on the role of the producer to bring the entire project together by managing the various opinions and progress of each manufacturer.
The development of VEAS was an unprecedented challenge, even for these manufacturers with high technical capabilities in each field. At times, there were clashes of opinions.
"What was especially difficult was the setting of safety standards for the DC converter and battery, which serve as the core of VEAS. Because this product is a first in the industry, it was unknown what standards and methods had to be implemented to prevent overheating, overcharging, and overdischarging. Through countless discussions, we repeatedly created prototypes and collected data, humbly turning our ideas into reality." (Hokusho Representative)
The headquarters for each manufacturer were spread out in Kanazawa, Fukuoka, and Tokyo, but Uesugi frequently visited each factory, in addition to regular phone and email communication to ensure that the project progressed smoothly.
"Upon consolidating the opinions, I would make a point of avoiding communication that could harm everybody's eagerness. For example, when an issue occurred, I made sure to never make it seem like one company was to blame. In order to do so, I clearly stated the tasks that had to be completed and strived to provide an environment in which every manufacturer could exhibit their best performance." (Uesugi)
Enjoying the Pleasure of "Creating New Value"
While maintaining each manufacturer's preferences toward their products, the development team advanced the project by openly exchanging opinions from each location. This was an ideal relationship in which every member cooperated to achieve the united goal of creating a new product.
Uesugi believes that a significant reason that this type of relationship was possible was because the person in charge at Hokusho clearly expressed from the beginning of the project the 2 visions of the product to "reduce costs through a peak-cutting function" and to "save energy by reusing regenerative energy."
"Because the objectives of the product were clear, we were able to approached completion of the project with confidence by handling the tasks one at a time. This feeling was shared between the entire team. More than anything, because each individual member had an artisan spirit toward creating the product, the more difficult a task appeared, the more motivated they were to achieve it. Through this project, I was also able to enjoy from the bottom of my heart the true pleasure of creating a product." (Uesugi)
A high awareness existed between the creators that we all were “creating a new value" in the world. The joint development of VEAS was a valuable experience for both Uesugi as well as for ITO Corporation, who was required to surpasses the traditional framework of a trading company.
As a result of various repeated trials and tribulations, the first model of VEAS was completed in 2010. By making additional improvements, the current final version was completed in 2012.
Making the Technology of VEAS a Source of Pride for the World
Orders received for VEAS have steadily grown each year, and VEAS is now one of the flagship products of Hokusho. In addition, its energy saving attributes have been recognized and awarded with the 2012 Energy Conservation Grand Prize. This served to help grow the recognition of VEAS. Looking back on this project, the person in charge at Hokusho recounts as follows.
"When we exhibited VEAS at a logistics event, each of our rival manufacturers told us that they were also thinking about similar ideas; however, they never actually realized these ideas. For the technology utilized in VEAS, the cooperation between various companies, each with their specialization, was crucial, and I believe that it is difficult to build links between these companies. ITO Corporation’s presence, with them standing between each manufacturer and taking the helm of communication, was indispensable for this project." (Hokusho Representative)
As of 2016, the baton for the person in charge at Hokusho has been passed to the young Mr. Yamada. Currently, in conjunction with the person in charge of the design of VEAS, we are working toward releasing a specialized new model of VEAS for natural disasters. Uesugi and Yamada, the 2 new and old people in charge, spoke about their ambitions for further growth of VEAS in the future.
"I would like the technology utilized in VEAS to evolve further and become a specialized technology of Japan that is a source of global pride in 10 years. In order to do so, ITO Corporation will continue to support the improvement of the technology of VEAS as a good partner of Hokusho." (Uesugi)
"Although the pressure is heavy, I will do my best to further deepen the trusting relationship that Mr. Uesugi and the person in charge at Hokusho have built. I feel great pride in being involved with this revolutionary product, and I would like to sincerely support the future of VEAS." (Yamada)