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In Japan, a technology approach to machine-tool export controls.

In the face of a Japanese government crackdown on sensitive production equipment being shipped into "nations of concern," some machinery builders there are taking steps to protect their corporate reputations.

Yamazaki Mazak Corp. (Oguchi, Aichi Prefecture) has decided to install what it calls "machine relocation detection sensors" in its machine tools by March. The new measure has actually been carried out, albeit on a limited basis, since August, when the leading cutting-machine builder began to equip some of its export models with the sensors designed to prevent resale to a user intent on developing weapons. Come March, the sensors will be in place in all the Mazak models, including those delivered to its clients in Japan.

Inevitably, some used machines are exported from the nation. The sensor-based mechanism, likened to a pinball-machine tilt switch, makes it impossible to restart a machine once it is relocated to a new site. Only with a password provided by the machine manufacturer can a new owner start it up again.

Other Japanese machine-tool builders, including Mori Seiki and Citizen Machinery, are adopting similar measures, though on a somewhat more limited basis.

Disclosure of the arrangement was timely. Japan's amended Foreign Exchange Control Law took effect in September. The regulation is somewhat patterned after the Exon-Florio provision in American law that puts limits on foreign direct investment in American companies. The Japanese version requires foreign investors to seek prior licenses from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) for partial corporate ownership in five sensitive industries, including weapons and aircraft.

METI (formerly MITI) furthermore interprets that the producers of some specific products are subject to the revised law regarding shared investment. The products include carbon fiber, titanium alloys, robots, and high-grade NC machine tools, which could be used in manufacturing aircraft, tank engines, and submarine screws.

Back in June, METI imposed a three-year ban prohibiting Mitutoyo Corp. (Kawasaki, Kanagawa Pref.) from exporting coordinate measuring machines after a court sentenced tour of its executives. The case involved the International Atomic Energy Agency discovering CMMs in a Libyan nuclear-related facility (see M.I.R., 7/3/07).

Installing tamperproof disable switches is one thing, explaining them to machinery customers is another. In theory, they work like the factory-installed theft-resistant radios in some brands of automobiles: Once disconnected from the battery they cease to function until a certain numeric code given only to the real customer--is entered into the keyboard, rendering the radio useless on the black market. Those cars have window stickers informing would-be thieves not to bother. At EMO, one Mazak executive explained his company will likely affix permanent plaques on the machine-tool base, in essence saying, "Move the machine? Call for a new code." He also noted that some other builders already have similar customer communications when they program three-month drop-dead dates into the controls on machines they sell to customers with bad credit ratings. Keep up the payments and you keep getting the password that'll keep the machining center operating for the next quarter.

News roundup, with reporting from our Asian correspondent
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Comment:In Japan, a technology approach to machine-tool export controls.
Publication:Metalworking Insiders' Report
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Sep 21, 2007
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