A New Kind of Manufacturing in the Era of IoT (Part I)

Industry 4.0, a national manufacturing innovation project carried out by Germany, has recently attracted considerable interest; it is said to be the fourth industrial revolution, which will realize a more advanced production system through use of digital technology. Similar projects are also being launched in the United States and other countries around the world. In such an era, what initiatives is Fujitsu undertaking? What kind of manufacturing does Fujitsu do? We interviewed Toshihito Nagashima, Monozukuri(Manufacturing)Business Center Director, who is well-versed in the area of manufacturing solutions.

Please tell us about your current work.

As a member of the Manufacturing & Distribution Industry Sales Group, I am responsible for promoting manufacturing solutions to customers as well as company sales staff.

Fujitsu is itself a manufacturer. Therefore, we have acquired a wealth of examples and know-how through our in-house manufacturing experience. Based on accumulated knowledge, we have developed and provided CAD and other simulation tools. Today, however, the scope of manufacturing is widening to include designing production lines based on customers' requests as well as producing a set of advanced systems for quality management and manufacturing and even carrying out contract production to support customers' manufacturing.

Have you yourself engaged in manufacturing?

I joined my present division within Fujitsu in 2008. At that time, it was the PLM Business Information Center and about two years ago, it was renamed the Manufacturing Business Information Center.

Broadly speaking, customers in the manufacturing industry belong to one of two categories: equipment production or machine assembly. For equipment production, Fujitsu has always had a large market share and we have actively developed our information systems business. For machine assembly, however, Fujitsu has had difficulties competing with other companies. For this reason, sales began exploring new business areas besides information systems. When I started working in sales, there was already a two-dimensional CAD system called CADAM. CAD technology enabled designing to be performed on computers and CADAM was the de facto tool for doing so; it was originally developed to design aircraft, and usage spread. Initially, only IBM sold CADAM. However, Fujitsu started selling an IBM-compatible CADAM system that had Japanese language compatibility; I too engaged in sales for that system. Around this time, I had considerable opportunities to familiarize myself with manufacturing.

When I first joined my current division, I sold a simulation tool called Visual Product Simulator (VPS), which was designed to examine data generated by a CAD system (focusing on CAD and an information control system called a PDM parts table).

Subsequently, Fujitsu extended the features of VPS and developed a tool to easily compile assembly manuals by simulating actual factory assembly procedures. Furthermore, by using an assembly simulation tool called Global Protocol for Manufacturing (GP4), we completed a system that simulates an entire manufacturing line.

In the manufacturing industry, the Industry 4.0 project for next-generation manufacturing is attracting considerable interest. How is Fujitsu approaching this?

Industry 4.0 is a German project. In Japan, each company has its own history of how it developed as a manufacturer. Fujitsu has also continued to develop its own style of manufacturing. Though we may review our own initiatives in comparison to Industry 4.0, this does not mean that our initiatives are a Fujitsu version of Industry 4.0.

Of course, if everything is connected together via the Internet of Things (IoT) in the future, we will go one step further and enter an entirely different world. Fujitsu follows a policy of building on its experience in steadily implementing its own Fujitsu Production System (FJPS) in order to develop manufacturing throughout the world of IoT. In other words, we aim to realize a world where we can practice advanced manufacturing based on the FJPS.

We have reached a new stage where we must take computer simulations to a physical level and offer all our technologies for sale, including automation systems* and robots.
*Automation systems: manufacturing support devices (e.g., automatic miniature screw-tightening machines, grease application machines, router-type board dividing machines, and microchip parts reworking systems)

What is the Fujitsu Production System (FJPS)?

In 2004, Fujitsu introduced the Toyota Production System (TPS), which has contributed greatly to the development of manufacturing in Japan. The FJPS is a production system based on TPS developed by Fujitsu as a manufacturer by adding Fujitsu's ICT, including the use of software tools.

In 2012, to provide customers with our manufacturing know-how, we launched the Monozukuri Kakushintai project. This project enables those who have developed innovations inside Fujitsu to help customers develop their own innovations. More specifically, we provide three services: manufacturing experts, manufacturing tools, and contract manufacturing.

In particular, the manufacturing experts service originated from our commitment to supporting our customers in developing and improving their manufacturing systems. In this service, a staff member having demonstrated expertise in how to improve manufacturing, a field innovator (FIer), and a consultant from the Fujitsu Research Institute work together as a team and visit a customer's manufacturing site in person in order to identify problems, propose solutions, and make improvements. This service not only delivers tools for production lines to customers through straightforward introduction of GP4 and other programs, but also provides support from Fujitsu staff in order to help customers solve challenges.

This service, rather than starting with a visit to the customer's manufacturing site, we first invite them to Fujitsu to see our manufacturing processes. At our four model factories (Shimane Fujitsu in Shimane Prefecture, Fujitsu Peripherals in Hyogo Prefecture, Fujitsu IT Products in Ishikawa Prefecture, and Fujitsu Isotec in Fukushima Prefecture), customer can experience FJPS in action, first-hand.

Then, if the customer decides to consider Fujitsu's services, experts in improving manufacturing performance visit the customer's manufacturing site. By observing the site for one day, experts well-versed in manufacturing are able to identify what needs to be improved and make proposals to solve those challenges, such as the removal of needless motions at some point in the production line, excess product stock, or the need for parallel lines to increase production efficiency. Fee-based services begin only after these preliminary processes.

System development starts at a human level.

Fujitsu endeavors to provide human centric technologies, as in the end, all products are used and operated by human beings. Thus, we support detailed operations through the use of ICT in order to provide greater convenience in the future. Fujitsu has acquired considerable experience in such human centric technologies. Therefore, in preparation for the era of IoT, we must be sure to increase the value of all our assets, including cloud computing and networking technologies, software technologies, and data centers as well as applications, solutions, and big data.

For example, data is obtained by sensors and cameras, however analysis or interpretation requires human abilities. AI (Artificial Intelligence) machine learning, which is attracting considerable interest today, is also supported by the human ability to analyze data. At manufacturing sites, human intervention is required to read deeper into data and to assess what operational improvements need to be made. No matter how advanced data-gathering technologies may become in the future, what is important is how to analyze the obtained data to develop new knowledge from an operational perspective. As automation becomes more sophisticated, the number of areas that require human intervention may increase.

It is said that the perspective adopted in analysis--in other words, the human element--is the key to analyzing big data. This may also apply to manufacturing.

That is correct. Individuals who developed experience at Fujitsu's manufacturing sites play important roles in providing our services.

Fujitsu does not know everything there is to know about manufacturing. We are well-versed in the manufacturing aspects of our own business, but we have never manufactured automobiles or airplanes. Therefore, we are now striving to combine knowledge, know-how, and insights regarding manufacturing in various industries with ICT in order to provide services in the future. For example, in TPS, cleaning and keeping things organized are common to all manufacturing processes. Fujitsu can support customers in implementing these common operations. We ask customers to incorporate their manufacturing know-how and knowledge acquired through their own experience into our services. Based on such know-how and knowledge, we are developing systems for automation and simulation.

In Part II of this interview, we present some of the manufacturing solution initiatives undertaken by Fujitsu as well as new services.

A New Kind of Manufacturing in the Era of IoT (Part II)