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

To discuss Industry 4.0, the new era of manufacturing, it is essential to understand the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT technologies are changing our daily lives, and nowhere is this change more drastic than in manufacturing. In light of the issues involved in contemporary manufacturing, what initiatives is Fujitsu undertaking to approach the era in which everything is connected together via the IoT? Following Part I, we continue our interview with Toshihito Nagashima, Monozukuri(Manufacturing)Business Center Director.

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

What challenges do your customers face?

Most of the issues facing our customers can be summarized under the term "QCD." Q stands for Quality, C for Cost, and D for Delivery. Customers confront all kinds of challenges, including difficulties meeting delivery deadlines, frequently running out of stock, and low yields, but generally speaking, most of these all fall under QCD. In automated assembly lines, we often encounter the problem referred to as "frequent stops," where machines stop repeatedly. This is also an example of a QCD problem.

When frequent stops occur on an assembly line, the personnel working at the site cannot shut down the line, so they rush to restart the operation each time a stop occurs. As a result, the real cause of the error is left undetected. Fujitsu's factories have also experienced frequent stops. In order to understand what is happening when such an error occurs, we asked data analysis experts to analyze big data on manufacturing collected by robots. The analysis results enabled us to finally identify the cause of the error. Whether we can benefit from big data depends on whether we can find significant correlations within the data and whether we effectively use the results of analysis for manufacturing.

In order to use the data to realize improvements, it is also important to consider how to gather relevant data in the first place. An infinite variety of data can be gathered (e.g., data on temperatures, earthquakes, and other natural conditions as well as the effects of trains passing by and electric voltage relationships). These conditions may in fact affect semiconductor and device manufacturing processes. We must decide how much data to gather and where to place sensors. To this end, we perform this type of research on a daily basis in our model factory in Shimane, for example.

Many issues in manufacturing cannot be solved without human intervention.

Exactly. Highly experienced experts who play a role in our expert services intuitively understand problems based on their past experience without referencing big data. We believe that revealing the logic underlying such intuitive understanding based on data will eventually make it possible to acquire more know-how regarding automation.

We understand you plan to provide new manufacturing solution services.

In reference to this figure, manufacturing innovation is depicted as a triangle. We will start providing new services by significantly enhancing the two sides, which represent design and manufacturing. In the future, flexible manufacturing will not be possible without using both these sides. The top represents services actually used by customers. We will use IoT technologies in our services, including the services at the top. This is Fujitsu's vision of smart manufacturing for the future, and it represents our initiatives for next-generation manufacturing.

Fujitsu has provided services for ERP, production management, MES, and energy management. However, our services have not yet expanded to cover management of actual factory facilities. Therefore, we are now striving to achieve a more advanced level of management--namely, to build a more developed manufacturing industry by working in collaboration with manufacturers at the levels of operation, control, and field service in order to seamlessly link these different levels together.

To accomplish this you have to collaborate with other manufacturers, right?

We could not provide a complete range of integration services without collaborating with robot manufacturers, for example. We are already moving forward with agreements with various robot manufacturers.

In the past, only large companies with production planning departments were able to employ robots to automate production lines. However, Fujitsu can provide human-robot collaboration technologies to support the introduction of robots into production not only for major companies that have never used robots before but also to mid-sized companies and SMEs.

Different companies use different programming languages, so Fujitsu's solution automatically generates programs that can control all such languages. We are already making an effort towards standardizing languages. At present, we are working to develop a solution that supports Google's ROS, the Advanced Industrial Science and Technology's (AIST's) RTM, and ORiN (developed mainly by Denso).

In addition to automated program generation, Fujitsu Laboratories is currently conducting research on automated robot systems to develop autonomous, coordinated control technologies that provide something similar to human control, thereby enabling robots to act autonomously. We are already using this technology in our own factory's production lines.

Fujitsu will provide services to help introduce robots in manufacturing as easily as possible by employing ICT as well as services to help respond quickly to machine failures during operation. This will be achieved by using the results of robot operation in our factories in combination with 3D virtual data during the design stage.

Progress in virtual reality technology is likely to play an important role in the future of manufacturing.

Fujitsu has invested effort in the area of computer-aided manufacturing for many years in order to develop virtual manufacturing technologies. For example, within the company, we already use zSpace (a hologram display solution) and Icube (a 4-sided 3D visual system). These tools make it possible to reduce the number of man-hours required for prototype manufacturing by employing virtual products that enable users to directly operate or enter inside them as if such products existed in front of users' eyes. Virtual reality (VR) technologies such as these further promote the advancement of virtual manufacturing. We are already working with an American venture company in this area as well.

Some people have raised concerns about security in an era in which all things are connected via IoT technologies.

It is true that some people are concerned about information security breaches and find it difficult to introduce computerized manufacturing. For example, there is a solution that provides design data over a cloud server. Of course, design data on new products is the most confidential of all types of data. Therefore, private cloud services are still the most commonly used form of cloud services. We encourage our customers to use our services in dedicated clouds.

However, IoT technologies necessarily create connections with the outside. Therefore, information security is an important issue that we must face. Fujitsu is also engaged in developing security technologies, so we plan to provide these alongside our manufacturing services.

So are you likely to further promote collaboration in manufacturing among companies in Japan.

Further collaboration among Japanese companies will no doubt contribute to create the most effective solutions. There are big players in each manufacturing area, and each company has its own ideas about standardization. Despite differences among the players, Fujitsu hopes to play the role of a hub in connecting different manufacturers to create a comprehensive system.

Industry 4.0 is a term originally coined overseas. In many respects, Japanese companies already have many more advanced features than foreign competitors. While Japanese companies previously aimed to manufacture products overseas, many of these companies are bringing manufacturing back to Japan. The future goal of the Japanese manufacturing industry is not only to bring manufacturing back to Japan, but to raise it to a higher level. Global production itself will no doubt continue to become more widespread. What is required for the manufacturing of the future is to optimize manufacturing for the global market. To that end, we would like to provide services that can be used more easily not only by large companies but also by mid-size companies and SMEs.

Without a vibrant manufacturing industry, Japan will lose vitality. We would like to contribute to invigorating the manufacturing industry.