The Japanese Engineer That Created the Robots That Make Your Stuff

October 17, 2020

It doesn’t matter if you’re Ford, GM, Fiat-Owned Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, or BMW. The robots that make your cars were created by a Japanese engineer, Seiuemon Inaba. The 95-year-old engineer passed away on Friday, October 2.

Inaba was one of the major figures behind the robotic revolution and helped develop advanced assembly lines for Toyota, Honda, Datsun (Nissan), and other major Japanese automobile and tech companies. Toyota’s implementation of robotic assembly-line, efficient quality control, and supply-chain later played a key role in the demise of the American automobile industry.

Fanuc Corp., a spinoff of Fujitsu Ltd in 1972 is still one of the principal industrial-robot makers in the world with a market value of $40 billion, largely due to Inaba, Fanuc’s robots built cars, smartphones, and other electronic and mechanical devices, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Because of Inaba’s work, Japan became a robotics leader, controlling 47% of the world’s market share in 2019.

Born on March 5, 1925, in Chikusei (a small city 50 miles north of Tokyo), Inaba attended Tokyo Imperial University during World War II, where he majored in arms manufacturing. However, by the time he graduated, Japan lost the war, and Inaba’s major was useless.

Japan would soon experience a technological boom after the American occupation. A country free of war with a large educated population and a driven culture, Japan aimed at becoming a technological leader within a few decades, beating out West Germany in the 60s and becoming the 2nd richest country in the world until being overtaken by China in 2011.

Once Fanuc Corp. earned its independence from Fujitsu in 1972, Inaba became the de facto president and later innovated mass-producing his industrial robots with his own robots—which were all built by hand before Inaba’s concept.

In 1984, Inaba moved Fanuc from Tokyo to the base of Mount Fuji. According to The Wall Street Journal, “The mountainside location became part of Fanuc’s mystique, as did its symbol color yellow, a feature of its robots building and uniforms.”

In 1995, Inaba became Fanuc’s chairman and eventually passed the reins to his son and only child, Yoshiharu Inaba, who is currently Fanuc’s chairman.

Feature Images via Nikkei Asia & Fortune

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