By Jessica Xieyang Qiao
Japan, a hotbed of craftsmanship and innovation, is well equipped for the fourth industrial revolution as Japanese manufacturing companies leverage high technology to accelerate the delivery of industrial automation solutions.
Panasonic System Solutions Company of North America (PSSNA), a subsidiary of Panasonic Corporation, launched in April last year to kick-start factory automation via computer-integrated manufacturing software. Masakatsu Kaji, director of PSSNA, said recent years saw a shift in customer interest from technology to productivity.
“In 2006 and 2007, customers were looking for the technology – how components could become smaller and smaller,” said Kaji at the Connect & Create conference in Chicago on Tuesday. “In 2015 and 2016, customers began asking how to optimize the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), how to optimize their assets and machines in the factory.”
The conference emphasized more partnerships and investment opportunities between Japanese and Illinois companies.
The first industrial revolution involved the widespread application of energy-powered machinery. The second focused on assembly lines. The third involved technological innovation and computer-driven applications. Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution, refers to the era of automation in manufacturing technologies by using the Internet of Things, cloud computing, robotics and other strategies.
Because the maximization of OEE requires inputs from both hardware and software, or better equipment capacity and optimal algorithm stability, Kaji said PSSNA aims to intelligently integrate the physical and digital world.
“In order to refine the quality control, the changeover process and the supply chain management, my division makes not only hardware but also software,” Kaji said. “This is the key to achieve a smarter OEE.”
While PSSNA aims to boost OEE to maximize customers’ productivity, Mitsubishi Electric Automation – a U.S. affiliate company of Mitsubishi Electric Corporation – employs edge computing to build connectivity and deliver the “e‑F@ctory.”
“To support manufacturing, the e‑F@ctory concept is to connect device and equipment via IoT, while also utilizing data, AI and machine learning,” said Toshio Kawai, chief executive officer of Mitsubishi Electric Automation.
The creation of an “e‑F@ctory” demands real-time utilization of shop floor data and connectivity with the information technology system. Edge computing is an important architecture to bridge the two.
“Essentially, edge computing allows the seamless coordination between factory automation and information technology systems in order to facilitate real-time data processing to improve manufacturing,” Kawai said.
Robert Miller, senior product marketing manager of Mitsubishi Electric Automation, said the company also taps into the time sensitive networking (TSN) technology, which allows manufacturers to “put a timestamp on things and give higher priority to some packets versus other packets.”
“So you can run multiple protocols over the internet but still maintain determinism,” Miller said. “When you hit the stop on a machine, you don’t have 30 seconds or a minute. It needs to stop right away. That’s why determinism is definitely required when it comes to manufacturing.”
Japan’s incentive for boosting industrial automation results from the smart city concept, which celebrates the “diffusion of connectivity,” said Fumio Oda, general manager of Macnica Americas, a subsidiary of Macnica Fuji Electronics Holdings that specializes in semiconductor, software and hardware design.
“Let’s say we talk about sensors in robots. Once you put in sensors to robots, the data information goes to the gateway, the processing system and the AI algorithm,” Oda said. “Japan is not looking at sensors or AI algorithm only. They are looking at the solution for everything.”
Oda said this concept of connectivity and synchronous communications within the entire manufacturing network drive the future of industrial automation.
“I’m not expecting to see major breakthroughs in industrial automation in the next one or two years,” Oda said. “Those machines need to be connected to data first. That’s data acquisition and visualization. What’s going to happen first is connecting machinery to machinery. After that, smart cities and smart factories are going to happen.”