Tech Blog : From customer need to delivery – an interview with the team behind HACARUS Check

Tech Blog : From Customer Need To Delivery – An Interview With The Team Behind HACARUS Check

This interview explores the thoughts behind HACARUS’ approach to the visual inspection business, with Yusuke Fujita of the Product Success Group, Takashi Yamaguchi of the Domestic Sales Group and Rio Onishi the Director and CPO / Product Division Manger discussing what they’ve experienced bringing solutions to customers. The interview first looks at how the representatives became involved with the business, and then they explore the value of visual inspection for customers. At the end the representatives share their ideas of what the future may hold. In the conversation, Asahi Kosei’s usage of HACARUS Check is referenced, at the very bottom of this post this customer success story is highlighted in a video case study. 

 

Involvement in the visual inspection business and how it started.

Interviewer: Today, I would like to hear about your thoughts and feelings regarding involvement in the visual inspection business. Thank you very much.

Interviewees (all): Thanks for having us.

Interviewer:  First, please introduce yourself briefly.

Fujita:  I am Fujita, the Product Manager for the AI visual inspection solution, HACARUS Check.
Yamaguchi:  I am Yamaguchi, the Business Development Manager of the Product Business Division.
Onishi: I’m Onishi, the Chief Product Officer. I’m responsible for overseeing the AI visual inspection business.


Interviewer: Could you please explain specifically what tasks you are performing? Let’s hear from Mr. Fujita first, please.

Fujita:  As a Product Manager, I handle tasks such as defining requirements for HACARUS Check and managing projects associated with our customers.

Interviewer:  When you say “management,” could you be more specific?

Fujita: It involves managing work hours. This includes predicting and confirming work hours and forecasts, conducting cost calculations, and ensuring that things run smoothly, on time. Based on these, I take actions to accelerate projects. Additionally, I provide support for exhibitions and technical support for product delivery. I also handle inquiries from customers about anything they don’t understand while using the product. Furthermore, I collaborate with technical partners and even designing fixtures.

Interviewer:  It’s quite broad, isn’t it? How about you, Mr. Yamaguchi?

Yamaguchi: I introduce the company to our customers and facilitate business negotiations. I have many clients in the automotive industry, some from Aichi, Kanto, and Shizuoka. 80% of our clients are automotive-related.

Interviewer: It’s a sales role, right?
Yamaguchi:  That’s right. However, as an AI startup, we don’t work in isolation, so we’re also advancing collaboration with technology partners. Companies like Visco Technologies, CCS, and NTN, for example. We need the expertise of various technology partners, such as equipment, cameras, lighting, and so on.

Interviewer: So, you’re involved in those aspects as well. How about you, Mr. Onishi?

Onishi:  I oversee the entire operation. My role evolves as our business matures. When launching the visual inspection business, the first step was to make a solution we could bring to market, then it was about adding value. Initially, we designed the product and had it made by outsourcing partners. We also considered software specifications and tested it on site based on feedback from actual use, we then adjusted specifications and usability as we progressed.

Interviewer: What do you mean by “on site”?

Onishi: This is lessons learned from actual usage by a client, and in this specific case I refer to Asahi Kosei. We realized the value we could bring to this site and decided to focus more on sales efforts. Mr. Yamaguchi laid the groundwork.

Yamaguchi: Yes, it was an inquiry through the media. After that, we proposed HACARUS Check.

Onishi: We’re starting to see sales techniques emerging. Now, we’re considering how to proceed organizationally and how to scale up. While thinking about these approaches, we’re gradually delegating authority to the field.

The customer value of the visual inspection business is…

Interviewer: To begin with, everyone here is a mid-career hire, but could you tell us about the timing of your entry into the company and when you started getting involved with the visual inspection business?

Onishi: I joined the company in January 2021. Initially, I was involved as the manager of SPECTRO (cloud-based visual inspection software). The HACARUS Check business was planned to launch in October 2021, and by January of the following year, the prototype was completed. We received orders in March.

Interviewer: That’s a remarkable pace! Is SPECTRO the basis for HACARUS Check?

Onishi: We already had the software called SPECTRO and the AI engine in place. However, in October, we decided to move forward with hardware as well. We thought if we’re going to do it, let’s combine it with collaborative robots. From there, we redesigned the software’s UI, and it became what it is now.

Interviewer: I see. When did you join the company, Mr. Yamaguchi?

Yamaguchi: I joined in April 2021. My mission upon joining was to sell SPECTRO. I worked on the sales materials from scratch. However, it was tough to sell. We received various feedback from customers, and the situation was challenging. The software was not user-friendly as it was cloud-based, and I realized it wouldn’t sell without partners.

Interviewer: What did you think when Mr. Onishi decided to move forward with hardware as well?

Yamaguchi:  Of course, I felt that we should also do hardware. I approached partners with the idea of selling them together once it’s ready.

Interviewer:  How about you, Mr. Fujita? You joined a little later, right?

Fujita:  Yes, I joined in August 2022. It was just around the time when Asahi Kosei’s decided to purchase HACARUS Check. Initially, I oversaw the software aspect. I rebuilt it based on the cloud based SPECTRO, but there were issues with the cloud, and sometimes it couldn’t be used. I thought, “Maybe this isn’t right.” Mr. Onishi took charge of the hardware part, and as I started from the software, I gradually took on a role more akin to a product manager.

Interviewer: Everyone, in their respective positions, has been involved in the visual inspection business and has had various experiences, I believe. Could you share an event where you felt the value of our business?

Yamaguchi:  We are working with a very big company that has a strong internal AI team, and they gave us the feedback at that HACARUS Check was easy to use and good; this was encouraging feedback.

Interviewer: Wow, that’s cool!

Yamaguchi: However, when they said, “easy to use,” we weren’t sure how much they meant by that. So, we asked them to try out other companies’ inspection equipment at their site. It was indeed cumbersome. It’s fine when the specifications are simple, but it’s difficult to set up when they are complex. It becomes confusing; you don’t know what you’re doing anymore. Compared to that, HACARUS Check is far easier to use. That’s the kind of software that Mr. Fujita and his team developed for us.

Fujita: It’s thanks to everyone’s efforts.

Yamaguchi: Next is the detection capability. There was a time when we were evaluated alongside nearly 10 competitors. I thought we might not make it, but in the end, we ranked second. It made me realize that we are correctly identifying the defective parts. Initially, I had concerns about false positives, but that moment made me realize it’s not the case.

Interviewer: That’s proof that our value is being recognized properly, isn’t it? How about you Mr. Fujita?
Mr. Fujita:  For me, it was when I saw the scene at a client’s site, where many human inspectors were lined up in the visual inspection process. It had a significant visual impact to make me understand the potential of automation using HACARUS Check. However, it’s not just about reducing labor costs; it’s also crucial for accuracy. With humans, you need to educate new hires, and even then, they can still make mistakes due to over inspection once they get used to it. It’s quite challenging.

Interviewer: Did Mr. Fujita graduate from a mechanical engineering school? Do you have a particular attachment to the manufacturing industry?

Fujita:  I graduated from a mechanical engineering school and worked in design for the manufacturing industry. I’ve always had a liking for cars, and I do feel attached to the manufacturing industry.

Interviewer: How about you Mr. Onishi?
Onishi: As I mentioned earlier, it’s Asahi Kosei. I was anxious about whether it would work out. There’s variation even in good products, and there was uncertainty about whether it would perform well… But now, it’s operating smoothly 24 hours a day, and it seems like we’re getting closer to achieving automation in final inspection. I feel like I’ve been able to contribute something.

Interviewer: Indeed, the case of Asahi Kosei is significant.
Onishi: Other clients have also compared about 30 visual inspection companies and chosen us. They appreciate the value of our ability to provide solutions from small-batch AI to hardware, more than we anticipated. We aim to achieve what was previously impossible as a deep tech start-up. We want to expand the value, such as quantifying inspections, making setup extremely simple, and improving maintenance.

The future of the visual inspection business and the future of HACARUS

Interviewer: Regarding the future of the visual inspection business, what are your thoughts?

Onishi: I’ve always approached things with a mindset of constant challenge. I’ve continued to inspire the development team as well. For sales, I want to ignite more enthusiasm and ensure they can sell with confidence. The market for visual inspection is significant. Even now, labor costs are high, but with the declining workforce, there’s a situation where it’s becoming difficult to hire people. There’s a part we can contribute to the current situation in manufacturing. We’ll carefully consider whether our products have a competitive advantage over competitors and strategize well, balancing everything. Otherwise, I believe there’s always a possibility that small start-ups will be quickly eliminated.

Yamaguchi: From the perspective of being eliminated, I do feel that tension. Initially, we were asked, “Who are you?” and “What can you do?” Now, we’re hearing things like “I watched your YouTube videos!” and “I attended your seminar!” The recognition of HACARUS is increasing. While raising awareness among customers, I want to generate more interest from potential partners in the future. And I want to make it easier for customers to progress and easier for them to find what they’re looking for. We need to consider the bright future while also anticipating the era of elimination.

Fujita: The market is substantial, and there are many aspects of inspections that are still done by humans. However, with so many visual inspection companies out there, positioning is crucial. As a product manager, it’s essential to focus on where to concentrate efforts, considering customer value, and making choices and concentrating efforts. And I want to make it easier for customers to use as well.

Onishi: As of February 2024, HACARUS Check is not yet something that can be simply placed and used. However, I believe we have reached a stage where it can be used by partners and sold to them.

Interviewer: The expectations are high! While there are still many more stories I’d like to hear, time is limited. So, if you have a message for the readers, please share it with us.

Yamaguchi: Please consider how HACARUS Check can help automate visual inspections! I am waiting for your inquiry.

Fujita: We are considering various unique values that only we can provide. We aim to be helpful overall while considering the optimization of the entire manufacturing process. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Onishi: While more people are becoming familiar with HACARUS, there are still many who don’t know about us. Despite the numerous competitors, there are indeed those who choose our company. I think it would be beneficial for people to try out various options, and I believe we can contribute value if they use our services. I believe this holds true from a global perspective as well. I also believe that the trend of replacing inspections from manual to automated processes will continue to expand in the future.

■ Reference

Asahi Kosei Co., Ltd.: Collaborative robot + AI visual inspection to automate die-cast surface inspection.

 

About HACARUS

HACARUS INC, on a mission to bring the next generation of instruments to every industry, has since its founding in 2014, supplied AI solutions across the medical, manufacturing and construction fields in Japan – and beyond. Headquartered in Kyoto, Japan, and backed by Daikin, Osaka Gas and Miyako Capital (Kyoto University), among others, its technology enables humans to make better, faster, and more reliable decisions based on data-driven insights. HACARUS’ proprietary AI engine is built using Sparse Modeling, a method that understands data like a human would – by its unique key features and is far more resource, time, and energy-efficient when compared to Deep Learning. To learn more, visit https://hacarus.com

 

 

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