9. From supply chain to engineering chain (First published in Japanese in June, 2014)

  Due to the impact of the weak yen by unprecedented level of monetary easing in Japan, it is said that Japanese manufacturing that once went overseas is gradually returning to Japan. In China and in ASEAN countries, labor costs are not as low as before, and this may help to transfer the domestic production system back to home. However, that doesn’t mean that mass-production of low-selling, high-volume products would not be done again in domestic factories.

  Diversification of consumer behaviors, in response to the flow of individualized, in production lines, high-mix low-volume productions, small-lot more and proceed for variant variable productions, in order to respond to intense demand trends of change, product life cycles are becoming shorter and uncertain. It’s not enough to procure the necessary amount of the necessary supplies when one needs them, by the traditional supply chains. In order to cope with such situations, it is necessary to collaborate across the boundaries of companies, including engineering viewpoints, what is essentially necessary and how to make it.

  In the engineering chains, the optimum production method is determined according to the required product shape and characteristics, and a production system for that purpose is designed and prepared. Information exchanged there is product shape and structure data, material and functional property data, production process specifications, quality inspection parameters, equipment operation requirements, test result data, QC process table and FMEA sheet.

  Compared to supply chains, engineering chains were characterized by a long PDCA cycle. In terms of product model changes, new product development, new factory establishments and expansions, it might be said as cycles about several times a year. However, in the world of production products, tailor-made design production has already progressed, and as described above, the frequency of consumer goods is increasing due to the shortening of a product life cycle. There is a need to speed up the engineering chain and to create a new structure with highly added value that makes full use of the ICT that supports it.

  The contribution to the engineering chain brought about by “Connected factories” will be enormous. First, before discussing between factories and companies, we can fundamentally review the engineering chain within the company. For example, suppose you would use a simulation model to analyze a process design for a new product. The models used there are almost always ad hoc. The reality is that at the time of production preparation, it is actually fine-tuned at the production site and further changed by KAIZEN activities (Tuning processes by engineers at the site) after the start of production, but each department in charge uses each data. Since there is no mutual relationship, it is not possible to cooperate. In other words, even within a company, PDCA related to the engineering chain is not connected as data.

  What happens if this in-house engineering chain is connected in terms of data or models? First, when performing simulations using models in process design, it is possible to use existing equipment data and performance data of the past obtained through production management, etc. The reliability of the product itself is greatly increased. In addition, if the model used in a simulation can be used in production management, more detailed and visual production instructions and monitoring will be possible, and real-time feedback to process design may be possible. Then, in the conservation and management, and operational experience and the future of the operation plan of the facility that will be performed by using the actual equipment inspection and actual data cooperation with the maintenance, preventive maintenance, and accuracy of predictive maintenance should increase in the level.

  In this way, by digitizing the engineering chain within a company, it will be possible to further develop cooperation between companies. First, not only engineering data such as CAD data is exchanged between the order side and the contractor side, but also two-way data exchange such as process history data, quality test data, and chemical substance data will be realized.

  n particular, the exchange of equipment data is attracting attentions in IoT applications. On the manufacturer side, the performance data and shape data of equipment and devices that make up the production line are obtained from the supplier. This data is used when creating equipment management and cost control master data, and can also be used in production line design and simulation. On the other hand, suppliers can obtain operational data of equipment and use it for after-sales services such as remote maintenance of equipment.