Seiuemon Inaba, Ph.D., the founder of FANUC Corp., who turned a fledgling startup into a global manufacturer of robots and machine controls, died Oct. 2. He was 95.
Inaba graduated from the University of Tokyo with an engineering degree in September 1946 and joined Fuji Tsushinki Manufacturing (currently Fujitsu Ltd.) two months later. As an engineer, he led the development of the first numerical control (NC) for machine tools by a Japanese company. In 1972, Fujitsu FANUC was founded as a spinoff of Fujitsu, with Inaba as managing director. He became president and CEO of FANUC Corp. in 1975. He continued to lead the company until June 2000, when he was named honorary chairman.
FANUC first developed an industrial robot for use in its own factories in 1974. Three years later, the company began producing them as a commercial product. Using the terms “strict preciseness” and “transparency” as the basis of company management, Inaba developed FANUC into one of the world’s foremost manufacturers of robots and controls. By 2017, FANUC had sold more than 3.6 million CNC controls and more than 500,000 robots.
Under his leadership, the company developed an extensive network of maintenance and repair services overseas, which helped Japanese automakers and machinery manufacturers make inroads into foreign markets. By setting up joint ventures with General Motors and other foreign manufacturers, FANUC aggressively cultivated overseas clients.
“I received direct guidance from him for a little more than 10 years, and through our interaction, he introduced me to the way of thinking and approaches that are unique to a founder. [It] was a rare experience that I truly treasure,” says Kenji Yamaguchi, president and CEO of FANUC.
Inaba received three national awards from Japan during his career, including one of the country’s highest honors, the “Order of the Sacred Treasure with Gold and Silver Stars” in 1995. He was given the Joseph F. Engelberger Award, the robotics industry’s highest honor, by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) in 1987.
“Inaba was one of the true pioneers of robotics,” says Jeff Burnstein, RIA president.
“Without his vision and insight, the robotics and CNC industry would be nothing like it is today,” says Sean Dotson, P.E., president and CEO of systems integrator RND Automation.
Rest in peace,