Machines that understand human beings and that think and act by themselves
"Anyone can make anything anywhere.
This is what Omron believes
manufacturing should be."
Chief Specialist of Technology, Intelligent System Research Center, Technology and Intellectual Property H.Q.
Yoshihisa Ijiri, Ph.D.
Conventionally people select what they want to buy and settle on a product from a limited variety of goods based on their taste. In the future, when people will have individualized values, affluent life means being surrounded by unique items and space, and enjoy encountering shapes, colors, and materials, functions of the items and space that perfectly fit one's taste.
What makes it possible is flexible and adaptable manufacturing that responds to various needs. We are bringing innovation to the manufacturing field of the future when anyone working anywhere in the world can create quality goods as they imagine without a risk, just like a smartphone that can intuitively be operated by anyone.
People's values are greatly changing now. A change of values from the "goods-oriented" view that seeks homogenous values with others in mass-production and mass-consumption to the "experience-oriented" one that seeks unique experiences which fit one's own taste and needs is the current trend in the world. This trend is accelerating.
Well then, what is the ideal factory that can make products which satisfy various needs? Yoshihisa Ijiri, specializing in productivity in the manufacturing field in Omron, says the answer is a factory with super productivity and super flexibility, comparing it to a smartphone.
"You do not need a thick manual to master how to use a smartphone. Ideally a factory should be a framework in which anyone can manufacture anything anywhere without mastering languages and/or skills in the industry, like smartphones."
Recent manufacturing industry tends to launch production around the world at the same time to satisfy various needs, focusing on local production for local consumption integrated to local lifestyle. Manufacturing facilities and control components such as sensors and controllers used to run the facilities, however, differ in standards and specifications depending on manufacturers, and support for languages is limited. It is not easy to construct a factory to manufacture the same goods in a different country. You must find and train skilled human resources who can properly handle the production facilities and translation of all the manuals may be required.
Ijiri's concept "a factory just like a smartphone" is epoch-making in that it is based on manufacturing that satisfies people's needs without relying on human skills all over the world. By leaving the manufacturing to machines as much as possible, human beings can focus on creative work. Of course, we have problems to solve to materialize this.
"In modern factories, the more you try to materialize manufacturing that does not rely on human skills and experiences, the more the labor to configure dedicated programs to run the machines become, requiring engineers with expertise and experiences. Such modern production lines can make products efficiently once they start production, but the preparation for stable production by the machines take a lot of time as they are programmed in an advanced and complicated way. In addition, a change of product types to manufacture or a problem with the machines requires much time for adjustment.
This adjustment of machines is now a big obstacle to make manufacturing easy for anyone. For future manufacturing, innovation to reduce the adjustment elements is an absolute requirement.
We want machines to do their work without teaching them everything to some degree. The key is "autonomous machines."
You just tell robots the goal, and they will work accordingly. This is an ideal form of autonomous machines.
If instructions to robots change from "How to do the work specifically?" to "What is to be achieved for the work?", the number of elements to adjust in production lines will dramatically decrease.
"Omron has been working on the evolution from teaching "How" to teaching "What" utilizing enhanced AI technologies based on line control achievements and image analysis in the control devices and FA system business for years.
Furthermore, our aim is to create factories that can manufacture while robots collaborate among themselves and humans by connecting controllers that activates the robots. To do so, we are putting an emphasis on not only a bird's-eye view of the factories at high altitude but also a closer view of the lines at an altitude of 10m so that we can understand robots and controllers well, to observe the factories with the concept "Sensing & Control + Think"".
Currently Omron itself is working on future manufacturing in its own factories. The Kusatsu factory, the main production base of Omron's controllers, has successfully visualized the printed circuit board processing line statuses that could not be done before, through fusion with other company's technologies, resulting in higher productivity by 30%.
In addition, the company is trying to bring innovation of "factories that never stop" due to unexpected problems by precisely controlling manufacturing utilizing the "4M sensing" technology that accurately detects so-called four major elements of manufacturing, Man, Machine, Material, and Method that could affect production efficiency and product quality.
"When a problem occurs in a production line, it usually takes much time to locate the spot and fix the problem, but the root cause of the problem may be a minor issue, such as insufficient grease. Once the "4M sensing" technology together with the AI technology is established, not only such a simple cause but also a symptom of a failure factor that even skilled engineers cannot detect will be notified. For example, the technology might estimate the replacement timing of a specific component of the machine and warn you based on the machine's vibration pattern and/or a surface temperature change. And, it might detect signs of bad health of a worker based on his/her movements and/or health data and immediately warn the line manager.
The "4M sensing" technology is the base that assists autonomous machines and for machines and humans to work in the same environment.
The production lines themselves that administer multiple machines can understand the statuses of the machines and the surroundings for safe and stable production by understanding humans. That's what we are working on."
When skilled workers' knowledge is incorporated into machines and the machines can reproduce their skills, the autonomous machines become more self-reliant.
Then humans can work on creating more innovative products that further excite people and new manufacturing processes that make products by utilizing creativity, thus creating a world of amazing experiences for people in the world.
Aiming at a future when such a life becomes a reality, Omron is making efforts in the manufacturing field with partners who also want to work on innovation.
We keep seeking ultimate manufacturing so that anyone can make anything anywhere.
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