Japan New Generation of Robots – Industrial Revolution (Mitsubishi Electric)

With digital, banknote production from Mitsubishi Electric chains begin to work in connected mode, hustling the Organization of factories of the future, where humans will nevertheless remain an essential element and robots will lead all tasks.

A ride on themselves, and three robots engage in a frenzied dance, electro music. Synchronization, perfect, delights the audience. Welcome to the exhibition Irex, the world fair of robots, which took place this winter, in Tokyo.

Japan New Generation of Robots - Industrial Revolution (Mitsubishi Electric)

Guided by a charming hostess, while silicone and electric diodes, the visitor discovers, over 1800 stands, the world of the future… and its avatars. As this robot a little toque, able to whip up Pizza with four cheeses or fatty tuna sushi. Or this other player in the “soul”, which won at (almost) all shots at bimbo. Or, finally, this ‘firefighter robot’, which can intervene on accident and breaking the windshield of a truck spilled to identify the driver.

When production is combined with the digital databases and advance robotic.

The industrial range, innovations are equally spectacular. Because here, in the largest world rendezvous of automation, it speaks only of one thing, the “factory of the future”. This concept, which is progressing very quickly, is to marry two worlds that were hardly accustomed to mingle: production and digital.

So far, Mills worked mainly in “closed” model: machines repeated the same tasks to infinity, without be connected between them. Now, robots will communicate and gain experience. They know, for example, “tune” their actions and find the appropriate reaction in unexpected situations. Also, they can work ‘hand in the NIP’ with operators, allowing to gain flexibility. A major development, which some call ‘third industrial revolution‘.

The first had occurred at the end of the 19th century, with the invention of the steam engine. The second, in the 1930s, had led to a massive mechanization of assembly lines. This new wave of comparable magnitude, could make “smart” plants. It is in any case the prognosis of PwC consulting firm, who, in a recent study, calculated that European industry plans to invest 140 billion euro per year in the “smart Automation” by 2020, including $ 40 billion annual only in Germany, one of the main actors of this movement, with the United States, China and the Japan.

Japan New Generation of Robots

More and more robots in industry

The “Robolution” is therefore underway. As proof, the number of robots sold in the industrial sector grew 29% in the world in 2014, according to the International Federation of robotics. Either 229000 devices. This figure could double by 2025, or even triple, according to the most optimistic forecasts.

On this market of the future, there are two types of actors. The first, such as Siemens, are both manufacturers of equipment and system integrators, i.e. they install their own industrial systems in their clients. Others focus on the manufacture of automata and leaving it to their partners to deploy them. This is the case of Mitsubishi Electric. Like Toyota, the inventor of kaizen (continuous improvement process), this manufacturer, which produces robots, but also all kinds of electrical appliances, has adopted a very Japanese method: first established this ‘digital revolution’ in its own factories before promoting it in others.

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“We began to think about at the dawn of the 2000s, tells Thomas Lanterman, pattern commercial development, which spends its life between the European headquarters in Ratingen, Germany, and the Japanese parent company. We have in place, on the Internet, data bases able to collect millions of information dating back production lines, but then we connected this system of information at other levels of the company, and including the management. The objective was to create a common language, enabling us to better organize and plan the production, productivity and reduce our time to production.”

The man and the machine related on islets

Illustration in one of the Group’s main factories, in Nagoya. On this site, huge, square meters are expensive, as in any Japanese megalopolis. Therefore, assembly lines are not installed on a single level, but high on several floors. To withstand earthquakes, these ‘real factories’ are placed on some impressive shock absorbers, kinds of huge iron horse that absorb shocks of magnitude 8 or 9.

To visit this ‘chain of the future”, we must cross a first hall and along an old unit of production, doomed to disappear at the end of 2016. Three fearful workers monitor a treadmill, on which are raised, to the queue, dozens of white boxes. One after the other, they are supported by arms-articulated, which rotate in all directions, as if they were playing with the Rubik’s Cube, and truffle of various components.

Thirty meters further, they emerge in their final form of “firewall”.

These pieces, widely used in the industry, do not have immense added value: to clear margins, to play on the volume effect. Productivity gains are therefore essential. It is at stake in the new production line, installed hundreds of meters away.

“In this plant, we have experienced several types of organization, recalls Takashi Kawamura, one of the leaders of the marketing of Mitsubishi Electric. First, we have in place of the highly automated channels, that allowed to produce low-cost. Only problem, they were not at all flexible. It was therefore difficult to produce different models. We then held the chain of Islands mount. The operator found himself at the center of the process. We won in flexibility, while reducing investment in machine tools, but the cost of labor increased considerably. Moreover, it took lot of time teams to acquire the necessary skills. “Where the current thinking: we kept the Organization into blocks, which allows us to reduce space, frankly and we do work together man and the robot.”

Men and women will keep their place in the production units.

Mid-length hair, John Lennon, Yukihiro Kimura goggles is a “homing”, much to share in this very conventional business. It took a year and a half to develop the concept. “It was necessary to find the point of encounter between the man and the machine, and, above all, ensure that the operation is profitable, says. Once we found the right equation, the music was fast.”

The robot could go much faster than human

The result is there, in this room in bright colors, where machines and helmeted workers bustled together out of sight. Apparently, cohabitation is going well. In a strange ballet, the robotic arm catch white housing and position it in the right direction, thanks to his camera, so-called “intelligent”, which allows him to see as a human.

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“It recognizes the shape and color of an object, says Kaoru Kawata, senior engineer. Suddenly, the camera is able to detect the slightest defect. “It can also test the product during the manufacturing process, which allowed us to remove the control at the end of circuit and do not stop the chain in case of trouble.”

Barcodes present on all components also allow to trace data. They will be shelled and interpreted by engineers, who will use to improve the behavior of robots and give more fluidity to the system. Strangely, the pace is much slower than on the ‘old’ string. Where it took only five seconds to assemble a component, it now takes three times. “The robot could go much faster, but the man would not follow,” adds Kaoru Kawata.

And, in fact, that becomes, in this new scheme? “His experience is invaluable, she says. It ensures the Visual inspection of parts and can feel the problems even before they occur, because it knows its robots. “By drastically reducing the stoppages, this preventive maintenance has generated substantial productivity gains. The rate of return of the chain of production increased from 60% to 90%, according to Takeshi Tominaga, responsible of the control system. This “intelligent” design also increased the overall level of quality.

Finally, better interpret the data allowed to realize energy savings – up to 20% for a single islet of production. As many arguments as commercial engineers of Mitsubishi Electric now intend to develop outside. “Our experience interested many industrial groups, particularly in China, and in the automotive sector,” he said.

This “Robolution” does risk to cause massive job losses? While it took three operators to turn the ‘old’ assembly line, must no longer now than a single over-sighting. Familiar with this issue, Mitsubishi Electric managers ensure that man is not nearly disappear and editing rooms. “In 2030, the man and the machine will continue to coexist in the factories”, promises Kaoru Kawata. Because the machine can not yet make.

Supporting of the activities more and more complex, the robots manage that 25% of the tasks of production in the next ten years, compared to 10% today, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group.

Opinion shared by Junji Tsuda, CEO of another manufacturer of robots, Yaskawa Electric: “a human hand has incredible accuracy, said recently in the Financial Times. His only Palm has over 10,000 sensors. The day where we will be able to 10000 sensors in a robot arm is not close to arrive.”

Vice President of Mitsubishi Electric, Noriyuki Shimizu was, a very “SchumPeterian” vision: this revolution will create new needs, he says. We lack such cruelly statisticians to analyze data provided by machines and to respond to the increasingly specific needs of our customers.