Toshiba searches for a new 'spine'

TOKYO -- Toshiba faces something of an identity crisis. Semiconductors have been the conglomerate's cash cow, but it is selling its flash memory unit to shore up its tattered finances. Somehow, the company needs to find a new calling and a new growth strategy.

Its best hope may be technology that has been helping the very business it is selling.    

Toshiba on Sept. 28 signed a formal agreement to unload the memory unit to an American-South Korean-Japanese consortium led by U.S. investment fund Bain Capital, though the conglomerate will retain an interest. The sale holds the key to escaping negative net worth but will cause Toshiba's earnings to plunge. None of its other units clear the 100 billion yen ($886 million) operating profit threshold.

As one Toshiba employee put it, "We are seen as a semiconductor company on the stock market, and I wonder what we will retain after the sale" of Toshiba Memory.

The future might just hinge on something Toshiba calls Spinex -- an internet of things "architecture" combined with artificial intelligence. The company chose the name out of the belief that the technology will support its business, much like the spine of the human body.



Engineers sing the praises of Spinex at Toshiba Memory's flagship plant in Yokkaichi, in Japan's Mie Prefecture. They say the technology helps them quickly pinpoint defects, dramatically improving the efficiency of inspections.

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