The “Internet of Things” or IoT has become a term that is commonly used in all kinds of media. The term was coined by Kevin Ashton, co-founder of the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1999, but only became widely known and recognized around 2015. Today the world around us is getting smarter and more connected, and you can find connected devices not just in our pockets or our offices, but increasingly in our homes, hospitals and cities.

The adoption of IoT in manufacturing

Today, the term the “Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or Industry 4.0 is also well-recognized as the application of IoT to the manufacturing industry continues to accelerate. IIoT refers to the extension and use of IoT in industrial sectors and applications in which industrial machines, equipment and systems are connected through the Internet. The term is also used to refer to the services and business models that are made possible thanks to IIoT as well as a range of technologies behind it. Improvement in productivity and safety in manufacturing and optimization of the supply chain are some of the indicators associated with the successful application of IIoT.

The IIoT creates new services and value added through the acquisition and accessibility of far greater amounts of data, at far greater speeds, and far more efficiently. Real-time analysis of operating machines will help predict the future failure point of a machine component so that the component can be replaced just before it fails. This “predictive maintenance” will minimize equipment downtime and maximize the component’s lifetime. IIoT also enables the real-time mass-customization of goods and services tailored to specific customer’s needs by linking factories and other business and operating systems.

Revolutionizing production through IIoT is now the priority for all companies in the industry around the world. Industry 4.0 originating in Germany and Industrial Internet originating in the United States are leading the way in terms of setting new standards.

IIoT in Japan

Compared with Germany or the United States, the adoption and application of IIoT in Japan has lagged behind due to the delay in setting unified standards. The automation in manufacturing is done by a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC), which controls the sensor and motors. In Japan, manufacturers use their own communication protocol or fieldbus, and, thus, it is difficult to connect devices made by different manufacturers. The same is true for PLC programming. Manufacturers use different programming languages, so if you change the PLC manufacturer, you need to re-do the programming.

In other words, Japan was weak in connecting various machines, equipment and systems, which is the core concept of IIoT. Unlike Japan, an open system is commonly adopted in communication protocols and programing languages globally so as to facilitate the adoption and application of IIoT. In terms of fieldbus, many manufacturers support an open communication protocol such as EtherCAT and PROFINET. For PLC, a common language for programming has been prepared based on the open international standard IEC 61131-3, and another open protocol OPC-UA is used for communication with higher-level systems.

To catch up, Japan announced the concept, “Connected Industries”, or the Japanese version of Industry 4.0 in March 2017 in which industries will create new added value and solutions to various problems in society through the connectedness of various facets of modern life. The five priority areas namely Automated Driving and Mobility Service; Manufacturing and Robotics; Plant/Infrastructure Safety Management; Biotechnologies and Materials; and Smart Life are listed on the website of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). METI also notes that the availability of precise data accumulated in the manufacturing industries over time is Japan’s competitive advantage over Germany. Factory automation and productivity improvement through the application of Artificial Intelligence or deep learning, and the use of robots and cameras are popular topics of Japan’s news stories these days.

To catch up, Japan announced the concept, “Connected Industries”, or the Japanese version of Industry 4.0 in March 2017 in which industries will create new added value and solutions to various problems in society through the connectedness of various facets of modern life. The five priority areas namely Automated Driving and Mobility Service; Manufacturing and Robotics; Plant/Infrastructure Safety Management; Biotechnologies and Materials; and Smart Life are listed on the website of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). METI also notes that the availability of precise data accumulated in the manufacturing industries over time is Japan’s competitive advantage over Germany. Factory automation and productivity improvement through the application of Artificial Intelligence or deep learning, and the use of robots and cameras are popular topics of Japan’s news stories these days.