IoT contributes to solving problems in the workplace and energizes Japanese manufacturing

Satoshi Tachibana Atsushi Watabe

Japan, the manufacturing giant, has arrived at a major crossroads. As competition in global markets intensifies, how will Japan create new innovations to maintain its superiority? Is there a place for utilizing IoT (Internet of Things) to improve workplaces? In this way, based on the experience, knowledge and realizations gleaned from a variety of projects and demonstration experiments, we look for hints to help us rediscover the competitiveness of the Japanese manufacturing industry.

Satoshi Tachibana

IoT Sector Leader
P&T Digital Business Unit

Atsushi Watabe

IoT Sector
P&T Digital Business Unit

Using ICT to strengthen manufacturing, package skills, and communicate them to global markets

Clearly, small and medium-sized businesses play an extremely important role in Japanese manufacturing. Examples abound of the patented technologies of small factories in Japanese towns supporting state-of-theart equipment across the world. However, in order to prevail in competitive global markets, these factories will have to pool their strengths and further increase their competitiveness. Unfortunately, Japanese manufacturers—regardless of the scale of their companies—are not adept at making inter-company connections. Each manufacturer possesses its own creative technologies and knowhow, using this advantage to create highly unique products; the companies’ pride in their achievements frequently works to obstruct collaboration.

How can companies transform while continuing to take advantage of their individual qualities and strengths? In order to resolve such questions, the Industrial Value Chain Initiative (IVI) seeks to develop a Japanese reference model for the manufacturing industry that makes use of ICT (business process scenarios and platforms, etc.).

IVI uses ICT to enable collaboration between companies that are participating on their own terms. It is a group that aims to develop new competitive strengths in the Japanese manufacturing industry, and counts approximately 200 companies among its members. These include manufacturers of all sizes, as well as IT venders and consulting companies.

IVI not only provides reference models. Perhaps its most distinctive feature is that it conducts demonstration experiments at actual manufacturing workplaces, and ABeam Consulting has contributed as a support member to the promotion of genuine research and debate.

The noodle-making industry has seen significant benefits from these demonstration experiments in its attempts to carry out business process improvements using IoT, and in its efforts to find solutions to a variety of problems.

Manufacturers of noodle-making equipment are using IoT both to provide equipment that consistently produces higher-quality noodles and to carry out business process improvements. They hope these improvements will help to increase the completeness of their noodle-making customers. If noodle manufacturers install equipment that facilitates the consistent production of highquality noodles, they will be able to reduce losses and improve the quality of their products.

Using IoT to gather and analyze data, identify quantitative facts,and improve business processes

For the demonstration experiments, the noodle manufacturers attached new sensors to their production line equipment, and acquired a variety of data via equipment control devices. The data was gathered and stored on the cloud, and ABeam Consulting carried out consulting work using this data.

Analysis of the data focused on two areas: stable equipment operation and consistent product quality. Food manufacturers deal with organic materials such as flour and oil, and the condition of the ingredients is constantly changing according to the manufacturing environment. For this reason, it is difficult to homogenize the quality of their products. Previously, these manufacturers relied on the experience and intuition of their workers; using IoT, however, they were able to gather and analyze data in an objective manner, and work out the relationships between different quantitative measurement results. This enabled the food manufacturers to identify the causes of various problems, and also contributed to their resolution.

As far as stable equipment operation was concerned, for example, we analyzed the behavior of production line motors. Veteran workplace employees determined it took an hour for operating conditions to stabilize after the start of production; however, we were able to determine that it actually took two hours. Such analysis led to more stable equipment operation and contributed to the production of higher quality and more consistent products. We were able to demonstrate that this translated into business process improvements and therefore improved competitiveness.

An attitude of improvement in the workplace and IoT combine to create a new Japanese manufacturing environment

Through these demonstration experiments, we were able to use data to prove the effectiveness of business process improvements. More than this, however, we were able to show manufacturing sites the thinking processes and approaches that were necessary to handle problem resolution.

In the European and U.S. manufacturing industries, even if workers are not highly skilled, they still complete jobs when management tells them to “follow the manual”. In Japan, conversely, an approach to improvement has taken root in which employees strive to make the workplace better together. For this reason, rather than standardizing operations according to a manual, it is better for individuals to acquire both the ability to think and the skills to resolve problems themselves. When they encounter a new problem, they can then explore the best method for solving it immediately.

If companies can combine IoT and other technologies with this capacity to independently think, act, and solve, and if workplaces are able to accelerate PDCA cycles from problem identification to resolution, then the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s proposed “Connected Industries” will come one-step closer to reality. We believe that Connected Industries is ideal approach to a new form of Japanese manufacturing.

The above demonstration experiments also gave rise to the notion of “best practices and manufacturing equipment for problem resolution”—in other words, the idea of a packaged solution that combines both “soft”and “hard” approaches. Manufacturers of noodle-making equipment are currently considering the possibility of providing this package to both domestic and overseas customers as a Japanese solution to manufacturing.

When talking about IoT, there is a tendency to focus solely on its ability to gather and analyze data in real time and to visualize results on dashboards. However, visualization by itself is not enough. The manufacturing industry must determine how it can identify value-generating information from these visualized results, and what sort of problems it will thereby resolve. At ABeam Consulting, we believe we can contribute significantly to successful use of PDCA cycles from problem identification to resolution.



A case study of an IoT demonstration experiment

Using IoT data generated by collaborations between equipment manufactures and noodle makers to improve manufacturing processes
Ohtake Noodle Machine Mfg Co., Ltd. and Itomen Co., Ltd.

Established in 1880, for more than 130 years Ohtake Noodle Machine Mfg has provided hardware and services for all manner of noodle-making processes.
In addition to an overwhelming share of the Japanese market, Ohtakebranded equipment is currently exported to over 30 countries worldwide.
Ohtake Noodle Machine Mfg wished to increase the added value of its products by providing a total solution via which it not only develops, manufactures, and sells its products but also, after installation of its equipment, supplies operational knowhow and support. To this end, it decided to collaborate on a demonstration experiment with the noodle manufacturer Itomen, with ABeam Consulting providing technological and data-based support via ICT.
Ohtake Noodle Machine Mfg used the IoT to gather and analyze data on Itomen’s manufacturing processes. The noodle-making process had previously relied on the experience and sensory evaluations of its veteran employees. Now, however, the two companies are actively engaging in efforts to carry out PDCA cycles aimed at improving equipment and product quality based on objective data.

Satoshi Tachibana
Satoshi Tachibana
Digital Technology Business Unit / Head of DXI Sector

page top