Mazak Makes a Stand on Export Control Compliance

Mazak Makes a Stand on Export Control Compliance

Bruce Vernyi Editor-in-Chief [email protected]

Yamazaki Mazak Corp. has taken a hard stand in the innovative use of a technology for export control, and the company should be applauded for it.

Mazak recently started to install devices in its machine tools that will hobble the machines if they are moved. The intent is to thwart potential movement of machine tools to people, companies or countries that are restricted by the United States and Japanese governments from having certain advanced technologies (see related story, Page 58). Think North Korea.

It’s a rare month here at American Machinist if we don’t receive at least some kind of inquiry from someone in Iran – usually seeking back issues of the magazine, but also sometimes seeking advice on techniques and technology. (We don’t respond to them.)

It’s just as easy to imagine the owner of a legitimate manufacturing operation in, say, Eastern Europe, being approached to sell its new multi-tasking machine for a 25 percent premium – no questions asked. The purchaser, a dealer perhaps, has a client in Iran or some other restricted location.

This is not just a hypothetical situation. In June 2007, Mitutoyo Corp., which makes precision measuring devices, was fined about $350,000 for violating export controls, and was banned from exporting specified products for three years. Four of its former executives received prison sentences in the case.

It’s a recognized problem for machine tool builders. I don’t want to believe that any of them would knowingly sell a machine to someone who wants to use it, for instance, in an illegal nuclear weapons program. On the other hand, builders can’t control what happens to their machines in the resale market.

That is until now. The technology that Mazak is building into its machines is designed to spoil the intentions of anyone who tries to subvert the export controls established by the U.S. and Japanese governments.

Simply put, if you buy a Mazak machine and move it, it won’t run until the company gives you the unique pass code to re-start it. If the machine is simply being moved across the plant, it’s no big deal. If it’s being moved to P’yongyang, that would be a different story.

Putting this kind of safety net on the resale market is a big responsibility, but one that Brian Papke, president of Mazak Corporation (U.S.A) (www.mazakusa.com), said the company is ready and able to handle.

Papke acknowledged that Mazak might lose some business – or, at least, that some prospective buyers may feel the program harms the resale value of their equipment. But he added that any such feedback won’t deter the company.

The decision came from the top; it’s a personal initiative of Tomohisa Yamazaki, president of Yamazaki Mazak Corp. It takes courage to take such a significant step beyond the letter of the law, and to accept responsibility for the downstream use of its products.

In the long run, it’s probably a shrewd business decision; Mazak will probably benefit over time as other companies follow suit.

But there’s no part of me that believes Yamazaki pushed this agenda for the sake of profit. I think he believes that some things are more important than commerce.

And I agree wholeheartedly.

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