8. What are the benefits of collaboration? (First published in Japanese in June, 2014)

  The concept of “Connected factories” does not aim to connect factories to factories. Many of these factories have already taken this common course, regardless of whether ICT is used efficiently or not. In the “Connected factories”, the inside of a factory is flexibly connected between processes and responsible work, and beyond the framework of the factory, each process and responsible work is the process of other factories and other companies and we aim to offer flexible connections.

  In fact, in the case of manufacturing in Japan, it can be said that this kind of process unit linkage has already been realized among some companies. For example, the Kanban method is a great way to connect manufacturers and suppliers directly on a process-by-process basis. There are also many examples where manufacturers and suppliers have worked closely together from the part design stage to optimize the manufacturing process.

  Therefore, “Connected factories” refers to the manufacturing process of Japan as a whole by using the ICT tools to expand the structure seen in these advanced manufacturing in Japan to various fields of manufacturing industries. It can be said that it is an effort to further enhance global competitiveness by improving productivity, flexibility, and robustness.

  However, in any case, I would like to be able to do what I have done so far, not just as it is, but also to make new ones using ICT, including things I couldn’t do. Otherwise, in the near future, it will be completely caught up by Western powers that make full use of ICT, and it may lose its position. So what kinds of new mechanisms are possible?

  First of all, in the supply chain so far, factories and factories, or processes and processes are connected via things. After the parts shipped from a supplier’s factory are delivered to a manufacturer, they are received and inspected, and the accepted products are sent to the manufacturer’s process. However, since inspection takes time, the possibility of missing a defective product cannot be denied.

  Many manufacturers audit their production and management processes to ensure the quality of parts produced by suppliers. Or entrust audits to a certification organization based on international standards such as the ISO 9000 series. The idea is to inspect the quality of the products sent from suppliers one by one and to ensure the quality of the processes that produce those products.

  What happens if IoT (Internet of Things) technology is added here? Even if there is no problem at the time of the audit of the production facility or process, it may happen that something has changed when the part is produced. Such individual situations can be detected by monitoring constantly the data. In other words, even if it is a relationship that transcends companies such as suppliers, it is possible to guarantee the quality with the prescribed process and the goods delivered, and at the same time use the data obtained when carrying out that process to make individual lots and then, you will be able to guarantee quality at the level of lots.

  This is also beneficial for suppliers or small and medium-sized manufacturers. If the customer’s production process at the customer’s destination and the company’s production process are connected directly, for example, in scheduling, it is not necessary to have more stock than necessary. In addition, there will be no uncertainties related to quality, and traceability will be improved, which should lead to stable orders from the ordering side. In addition, when order-made production with small lots, etc., by digitizing process information in advance and managing the results with data, the estimated man-hour and accuracy are greatly improved, resulting in a business model with a higher profit margin and it will be possible to shift there.

  Even if it is possible to connect production processes beyond factories and companies, it is not always necessary to keep all of your production processes open. The person who has each production process decides which part and to whom how much it is open. How to use production data obtained from time to time to strengthen the supply chain, strengthen sales and profitability is just part of a company’s management strategy. Depending on how this data is used, it can be a source of added value that leads to the competitiveness of the company.