Proposal1 “Connected factories”

Proposal1 "Connected factories"

1. Introduction to “Connected factories” (First published in Japanese in June, 2014)

 This proposal was published in June, 2014 as “Proposal for manufacturing process innovation towards the realization of “Connected factories” in Japan by the volunteers of the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers Manufacturing Systems Division and is re-posted here. 

  1. Introduction

 The key concept of the “ Fourth Production Revolution, Industry 4.0 ” that the German government is currently working on as a national policy with industry, academia and government is “Connected factories”. With the rapid spread of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the future, factory facilities and equipment will be connected across the boundaries of factories, and manufacturing sites and consumers will be directly connected. We foresee that suppliers of such equipment and devices, operators who operate them, and engineers who install or repair them will be connected via networks, and that business form of manufacturing industries and life style of working people will change significantly.

 On the other hand, many manufacturing industries in Japan have moved their manufacturing bases overseas by search of less expensive labor cost, and many of jobs have been lost. At the same time the foundation of manufacturing as a world-leading manufacturing country has greatly fluctuated. With the trend of globalization, competition rules in supply chains and engineering chains have changed dramatically, and companies that supply products to final product manufacturers such as parts manufacturers and manufacturing equipment manufacturers have been forced to change their strategies for win. What should be the changes in 10 or 20 years? The keywords are open and close of services of manufacturing and “Connected factories” in Japan by ICT.

 3D printer technology developments and its spread are attracting attentions currently as a manufacturing innovation policy. There are also expectations for expanding uses of industrial robot technology. As factories in local area which supported the post-war high-growth period was very close to the living area, these new innovations will be a major stream that will bring the manufacturing site closer to us. On the other hand, the sense of strategic clogging is still widespread in conventional factories that have been required to change in a situation where large-scale investment does not remain as before.

 This paper clarifies key concepts for factories of the next-generation, including small and medium-sized manufacturers, and proposes issues to be addressed as a basic policy for manufacturing in Japan, and measures to solve them. Needless to say, like the German example, it is no longer possible to avoid ICT, openness, and networking in the manufacturing world. However, the industries in Japan should define and implement “Connected factories” in a Japanese way, taking into account of Japan’s technological capabilities, development capabilities, on-site capabilities, and the Japanese manufacturing culture that has been cultivated from the past.

 Along with the proposals, I would like to add the position of the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers production system division, technical and academic themes and issues that can contribute to the realization of innovation, and specific action plans for the future.


Proposal1 "Connected factories"

2. What is “Connected factories”? (First published in Japanese in June, 2014)

 Three scenarios are introduced for assumption to explain “Connected factories” in Japan as a new concept. Scenario 1 is a model of a niche top company that manufactures the final product at first.

Scenario 1

 Hosei Kogyo (tentative name) announced an assistive device for people with disabilities in 2018 which was developed for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. The manufacturing process incorporated a 3D printer and some metal parts were very complicated and planned to be produced about 10 units per month. This was introduced in Scandinavian media, and the business was gradually expanded to a production system of 2000 units per month as of 2022. By using the manufacturing community platform, they had a plan of construction of their own factory in Fukushima Prefecture in future with controlling investment costs and risks with a network-type fab method.

 Since so-called 3 D printer is oriented to non-repeating orders of small lots, it is better to go to factory equipment investment in the case of mass production and the corresponding cost of one unit will be less expensive. The problem is in between. It can be said that the niche top companies are always going through this process. “Connected factories” can be used as a manufacturing consignment mechanism for such intermediate production lots.

On the other hand, Scenario 2 below is an example of a support industry company.

Scenario 2

 Hosei Seimitsu (tentative name) applied for a joint development program with a major material manufacturer and established difficult processing technology for new composite materials. After getting third-party technology evaluation and intellectual property management, orders of processing were stably obtained, and new inquiries through the manufacturing community platform increased, and orders from overseas also increased dramatically. Although there were mass production or repetitive orders, the company did not expand its scale and licensed the processing, while concentrating management resources constantly on the development of new processing technologies.

 As is well known, the high processing technology of SMEs supports manufacturing process of major manufacturers. A further leap can be expected by guaranteeing the system not only for the matching between companies but also for trade and technology assessment and intellectual property management. In addition, by collaborating in the fields such as logistics and customs clearance, orders from overseas can increase.

And the last example is the image of a completely new type of manufacturing and service company.

Scenario 3

 Hosei (tentative name), a major contract manufacturing service company specialized in machining, has the third largest sales in Japan as of 2025. The EMS (contracted electronics manufacturing service) business was significantly reduced in 2014 and the business is shifted to machining and resin products. The process management is thoroughly standardized, and the process is streamlined by combination of relatively inexpensive press + sheet metal processing and welding robots with making from 1 to 5,000 products per month. Mainstay is the interior parts of electric cars. The line is in conjunction with the customer’s production management system and the flight digital signage are delivered 2 times per day through the cloud.

 With the advancement of electronics, mechanical elements have been increasingly replaced by electric and software ones, and these have been made into IC chips and printed circuit boards, which can be outsourced to EMS companies. However, on the other hand, there are still some mechanical elements that require manufacturing by combination technologies, and it cannot be a manufacturing service based on Western ideas. Efficient manufacturing such parts with high quality is the strength of manufacturing industries in Japan, and this is likely to become a killer content for manufacturing business in future.

 The characteristic of “Connected factories” is that the process of making products by linking each other beyond companies. Supply chains were often linked by selling and buying of products as transactions between different companies until now. On the other hand, when manufacturing processes are directly linked, not only transactions in standard units such as materials, parts, module products, and products, but also exchanges and manufacturing in units such as intermediate products and works in progress and a form of partially entrusting processes are realized more flexibly than ever.

 There is a history that SMEs and small-scale enterprises have been getting such manufacturing processes as subcontractors of outsourced manufacturing. The pricing right was on the consignment side, and the consignment side also determined and evaluated manufacturing process there. On the other hand, the supply chains are configured from equal standpoints or, in some cases, from trustees in the applications of “Connected factories”. As a result, companies with advanced processing technologies, detailed production preparations, material technologies and elemental technologies can concentrate on improving their technologies. In addition, in response to the ever-increasing variety of product needs and individual customer demands, it will be possible to realize Monozukuri (Manufacturing in industries) that integrates design and manufacturing across corporate boundaries.


Proposal1 "Connected factories"

3. Manufacturing industry collaboration models and standardization issues (First published in Japanese in June, 2014)

 In order to realize “Connected factories”, it is indispensable to standardize manufacturing beyond the companies. In particular, when conducting business collaboration or manufacturing process collaboration using the Internet , It is necessary to have discussions in advance on what level and what data should be connected as ICT, and what should be connected based on a standard model.

 IEC 62264 is an international standard for models that integrate FA (factory automation), information control systems, and management systems in this field. As shown in FIG. 1, the entire manufacturing system is defined by dividing into level 1 to level 4 here. At what level does “connected factories” connect to other factories or outside ?

 Let’s divide the collaboration into three types: intra-company vertical cooperation, intra-company horizontal cooperation, and inter-companies cooperation at first. Intra-company horizontal collaboration at Level 1 and Level 2 is largely based on ICT at present, and many standards including international standards are being carried out in this area. In addition, in level 4 business management, business linkage is achieved by an information system such as ERP, and data linkage such as EDI is also realized between companies.

 With the above discussion, a new challenge with “Connected factories” will be vertical collaboration of the site management that connects the top and the bottom at level 3, enterprise horizontal cooperation, and business-to-business cooperation in the field management level. The manufacturing sites in the factory, for the manufacturing industry, can be positioned as showcases by eliminating wastes thoroughly through 5S and KAIZEN activities. However, the manufacturing sites are the most difficult objects to be standardized actually, because various information is exchanged there.

 The strengths of manufacturing sites in Japan include engineering skills such as production technology and production preparation. In Europe and the United States, such engineering and manufacturing operations are completely divided by engineers, and so-called balancing technology at the manufacturing site cannot be established. On the other hand, there is a culture in Japan with which process design and production technology are tailored to the characteristics of each site and are built together with the site. It is highly likely that a new leap will be triggered by using ICT effectively on manufacturing sites as functional centers to link processes in the engineering chain such as design, manufacturing, and maintenance.


Proposal1 "Connected factories"

4. Collaboration platform and ICT utilization (First published in Japanese in June, 2014)

 Along with the terms, such as cyber-physical system (CPS ) and Internet of Things ( IoT ), have become common, equipment and devices send data by themselves, and the flow of people, goods, money, and information tend to be collected as data on the network. However, what should not be mistaken here is that the reality that can be grasped through the Internet as data in this way is only a part of the reality that we want to know.

 In other words, we always need to keep the relationship between the virtual world that can be realized on ICT and the real world that corresponds to the actual manufacturing sites and the corporate activities. It is necessary to make decisions in the real world with adding information taken in the real world to ICT information. ICT is a only tool that complements realistic decision making. Considering these points, the requirements for a cooperative platform to realize a “connected factories” are summarized below.

(1) On-site / actual / reality-based ICT

 As already mentioned, the collaborative platform makes it possible to handle real things and people as they are, and avoid excessive digitization and ICT. This will prevent technology outflow, foster economic effects by moving people and things, and develop craftsmanship skills and tacit knowledge.

(2) Realization of open & close strategy

 Promote thorough openness and standardization of the internal structure of the current factories and develop an ecosystem. On the other hand, the manufacturing know-how inside the production line, which is in a competitive area, is concealed by the open & close strategy, and the manufacturing process can be converted to a black box.

(3) Guarantee of fair and secure cooperation by external organizations

 Clarify the rights and responsibilities of intellectual properties of manufacturing processes, such as modification of prototype drawings and mass production drawings, and determination of manufacturing methods and processing conditions. By enabling tracking by third parties, it promotes fair competition for technology development and at the same time clarifies product liabilities.

(4) Global deployment and support for international transactions

 Corresponding to a globalized and borderless trading environment, the countries and regions of participating platforms are not limited. Reduce and support the business burden of trading companies on exchange issues, customs clearance issues, intellectual property and legal issues, etc. that occur when manufacturing process collaboration is realized across borders.