The re-structuring and re-organization of an existing production system is necessary to maximize the potential of IIoT and to take the manufacturing process to the next level. Mr. Hirokatsu Muramatsu, General Manager of the Robot Business Division at Yamaha Motor Company (hereafter referred to as Yamaha), talked about the approach that should be adopted by the manufacturing industry in Japan. Yamaha is a Japanese manufacturer of motorcycles, marine products, and other motorized products including recreation vehicles and industrial robots. Yamaha operates globally to provide a wide range of products to customers worldwide.

Japan lags behind other countries in its introduction of “connected factories” due to the delay in standardizing fieldbus as well as its high dependence on equipment from a small number of manufacturers. In order to tackle this challenge, Yamaha has developed its “Advanced Robotics Automation Platform”, which is an integrated robot system to automate the production system both efficiently as well as in a short period of time. Mr. Muramatsu explained to IIoT Times why Yamaha has developed this system.

Japanese manufacturing has long neglected the importance of software

  • IIoT Times: Yamaha developed its “Advanced Robotics Automation Platform” at the end of 2016. Please explain the background of this.

Mr. Muramatsu: What is important in manufacturing is the goal, rather than the means to that goal. Automation is important to make the production more efficient. It is also critical that the production be done with the smallest-possible amount of resources and in the shortest amount of time. When new production equipment is being developed, the difference in the programming standards and communication protocol undermines the optimization of the production. The method of using development tool(s) is often different as well. There is a tendency for new machines and equipment to be built on an existing mechanism as it is familiar to the developer. Adopting a brand-new approach can be both costly and risky. The operation of each machine may be optimized, but such an approach cannot achieve total optimization as different machines are developed using different approaches.

  • IIoT Times: Why have Japanese manufacturers been silent on this issue for so long?

Mr. Muramatsu: The manufacturing of production equipment in Japan has long been done in silence. The mechanical design, electrical design and software design are each done separately as well as in order. Priority is usually given to the mechanical design, followed by the electrical design and software production being done at a later stage. So by the time the software has been developed, time is limited and is usually spent on fixing any bugs. It is also the reason why more advanced functions are not then added to the software too.

  • IIoT Times: So what was the driver of change? Why has this finally become an issue?

Mr. Muramatsu: The role of software is becoming increasingly important in the era of IoT and Industry 4.0. It is more than just a simple replacement of humans with robots through automation. Today, it is very important to manufacture a wide range of products in small quantities, and the manufacturing has to be done within the same timeframe and at the same cost as conventional mass-production. Excessive product inventory must also be avoided.

This means that production must be more intelligent, flexible and productive. More specifically, the number of actuators, image-recognition cameras and sensors will increase significantly. Today’s manufacturing is very complex, and, in this context, the role of software is very important. It is also a very challenging area.

Connecting things is not the goal. Creating new, additional value by connection is the goal

Recognizing the importance of software, Japan’s manufacturing sector is now working hard to achieve a “connected factory”. However, Mr. Muramatsu warns that creating a standard for the connection is not the actual goal. “What is important is how we can create additional value through the new standard,” he said. Creating additional value should be the ultimate goal of connecting things. Connecting things is a means to achieving a greater goal, such as achieving greater efficiency in manufacturing.

Mr. Muramatsu: Let’s look at the PC environment as an example. If you wanted to use the internet 20 years ago, you needed to have professional computer skills. Today, however, the internet has become a normal tool for everybody to use. A smartphone is now connected to the internet whenever it is switched on. How to connect is, therefore, no longer an issue and people are now talking about what to do with the internet. On the other hand, it seems that “how to connect” is still an issue for the manufacturing sector. They spend a lot of time and effort discussing the configuration of a field network, or which PLC and programming language to use. The Advanced Robotics Automation Platform was developed to address this challenge and help the user to achieve total optimization of the production system.

  • IIoT Times: So the user can focus on the ultimate goal without being bothered by the “how to” issue.

Mr. Muramatsu: Exactly. With the Advanced Robotics Automation Platform, users can connect to the internet or to another company’s system. It can control necessary actuators, be connected with any sensor and linked with other companies’ products, if required. If you have a platform that can handle maximum tasks at a minimum cost, you can focus on your ultimate goal. In other words, the Advanced Robotics Automation Platform is a platform to help users achieve their ultimate goal quickly and more efficiently.

CODESYS Software PLC is key for achieving total optimization

  • IIoT Times: Advanced Robotic Automation Platform use CODESYS Software PLC. Please explain why you chose CODESYS.

Mr. Muramatsu: CODESYS is compatible with OPC-UA, which is considered to be the main standard for Industry 4.0. It means that there is no problem in terms of communication with upstream. It is also compatible with standard field networks such as EtherCAT and EtherNet/IP and has enough flexibility to customize the level of control and linkage with sensors. CODESYS is the comprehensive software platform, and, thanks to CODESYS, we did not need to buy different software for each function and connect them. We could focus on refining our robot products to make sure that our system is user friendly and provides total optimization to the users.

Mr. Muramatsu: Our integrated platform can control not only Yamaha’s robots and transport system, but also motor-controlled units designed by user companies. This is one of the advantages of our platform. Programs can be created in the same environment, so programs do not have to be created separately for Yamaha’s robots and the users’ own units. CODESYS was the most appropriate software PLC as it can handle all this. Advanced Robotics Automatic Platform is the result of our best effort to achieve total optimization.

Improving the utilization of the robots’ full capacities through the total optimization of the production system

In the past, the role of robots was mainly to move something from point A to point B. The main issue in the competition of robot development was how quickly and smoothly this could be done. Mr. Muramatsu said such an era is over. He said the focus today is on how to increase the rate of capacity utilization.

  • IIoT Times: What is the new priority for robots?

Mr. Muramatsu: Over 30 years ago, automobile manufacturers would compete with one another to make the most powerful car. Today, few people care whether the car has 4 or 6-cylinders, or how much horsepower it has. Today, cars are being selected depending on their purpose. In other words, a consumer chooses a car based on what they want to do with the car, whether it be for leisure purposes or otherwise. Comparing robots by their speeds and accuracies is like comparing cars by their horsepowers. This area has already matured, so competition has now shifted to the next level, which is what you can do with a robot.

Also, the rate of capacity utilization of robots is quite low in an automated production line of product parts. Robots tend to spend more time transporting goods from one section to another, or finding a suitable position to work instead of doing the actual work such as tightening a couple screw or applying glue. It is important to eliminate the time spent on non-core work as much as possible so that robots can do more of the actual work. An infinite circulation transfer system building on linear motor technology has been built into the Advanced Robotics Automation Platform. This system increases the efficiency and speed in moving goods from one production line to another. The user can significantly increase the capacity utilization rate of robots with this system. Our system is very efficient as we consider the entire production line as a robot. 

  • IIoT Times: When Yamaha started to think of selling robots as a system, rather than individual product?

Mr. Muramatsu: About two and half years ago. We changed our mindset and started to think that the design of the production system will also become purpose-based. The speed in which companies move today is totally different from that of 10 years ago. Companies are more and more nervous about cost. However, the requirement is getting higher and higher. We need to meet greater and more advanced needs with less cost and time. We no longer have the luxury of doing things that are not absolutely necessary. To keep up with today’s needs, we need to stop doing unnecessary things.

Using AI to meet increasing demandof total optimization of production facility

Japan’s manufacturing has finally started moving toward implementing IIoT but Yamaha is looking further. Yamaha plans to introduce Artificial Intelligence (AI) in integrated system environment. According to Mr. Muramatsu, Yamaha plans to increase the accuracy of assembly and introduce AI to time-consuming adjustment work. Yamaha plans to do this by 2018, but this is not the end of the story as Yamaha looks further ahead.

  • IIoT Times: Does Yamaha plan to automate the production process with AI?

Mr. Muramatsu: Tacit knowledge belonging to each individual is key for the task of adjustment, and it is difficult to share this kind of expertise with others. It applies to even simple task of how to move robot quickly and position it without causing vibration. There is certain theory behind these tasks, and AI will learn it. In the long-term, we also plan to let AI automatically create part of the program. Advanced Robotics Automatic Platform relesed in 2016 was our first step toward this long term goal. The second step will be the use of AI in adjustment and other areas, and programs will be created by AI in the third step.