BreakThrough Interview

Changing Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) to Smart Factories Using IoT! Productivity at Showa factory improved by using the "Manufacturing line remote monitoring system"i Smart Technologies Corporation

2018.08.30

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summary

  • Increase productivity significantly by understanding the current situation accurately and implementing improvements
  • Establishing a new company based on the results of the corrective strategies. Offering services to other companies
  • Conversion of small and medium enterprises to smart factories using a simple IoT system

iSmart Technologies Corporation (hereinafter referred to as "iSTC") was established to deploy an original IoT system for promoting the conversion of SMEs to smart factories.
The system was based on the improvement activities implemented at Asahi Tekko Co., Ltd., an automobile parts manufacturer. At Asahi Tekko, an automatic monitoring system was developed using IoT to grasp the current situation more accurately, and significant results were obtained by implementing the system. iSTC was established to expand the utilization of IoT to other SMEs. Let's look at the development process.

Data is collected by an automatic monitoring system utilizing IoT

Asahi Tekko considered if it is possible to handle customer requests to increase production by improving the productivity instead of expanding the facility. For this, improvement activities are indispensable. On the other hand, one of the challenges was the inability to accurately grasp the current situation which is regarded as the first step of improvement. Records of data such as production volume per hour and downtime of the line was being managed by line supervisors along with other responsibilities and it was difficult to collect accurate data. Therefore, the company decided to introduce an automated monitoring system utilizing IoT.

First, the company tried to find existing products. However, the systems were large and expensive, and latest systems for installation in "Showa factory" was not available. They decided "Let's make it by ourselves" and started development.

The automatic monitoring system developed by Asahi Tekko has a simple configuration. For example, light sensors were installed in machines that lights a lamp after each product is manufactured, and magnetic sensors were installed in machines with movements such as opening and closing of safety doors and pulse signals were generated. Number of pulses indicates "Production volume" and pulse interval indicates the "Cycle time". In addition, if the pulse duration is above a certain interval, the line is considered to have stopped. Such information is sent to the smartphones of personnel or in-house monitor via the cloud.
The cost was low since the sensors were purchased at Akihabara, the cost of light sensors was 50 yen each and cost of magnetic sensors was 250 yen each.

Kit to install production line remote monitoring system

Visualization alone does not solve all problems

Asahi Tekko considers that IoT is made up of both IT (Information Technology) and OT (Operation Technology). Even if IT can accurately grasp the current situation, what comes next is important. How to identify problems from the data? How to improve and link to operations? "The added value is high, and this work can be done only by humans" says Tetsuya Kimura, President of Asahi Tekko, who also serves as the CEO of iSmart Technologies Corporation.

However, improvements cannot be expected overnight. Every day at Asahi Tekko, management such as managers and staff members gathered at the shop floor to discuss the reasons for line stoppages and measures to prevent the occurrence. Initially, the meetings went on for several hours, the president also attended the meetings and gave ideas. Collecting small ideas is important, sometimes opinions that seem to be a preconceived notion may be the breakthrough in problem solving.

As a result, the volume of Asahi Tekko after the installation of "Manufacturing line remote monitoring system" in 2014 saw an average increase of 34% for the 80 lines with a maximum increase of 128%. They succeeded in reducing capital expenditure by approximately 400 million yen and labor cost of over 100 million yen per year and achieved zero overtime work on weekdays.

Tetsuya Kimura, President of Asahi Tekko also serves as the CEO of iSmart Technologies Corporation.

SMEs require IOT

Based on the results at Asahi Tekko, President Mr. Kimura decided that "This system can be used by other companies", and established iSTC in September 2016.
iSTC offers the manufacturing line remote monitoring system with an initial investment of 100,000-yen, monthly fees of 39,800 yen per month for 5 lines at an affordable cost for SMEs. The system can be installed even on machines that have been used for a long time and the company also supports "Improvement of productivity of SMEs".

However, even if data is collected by installing the system, many companies do not have the slightest idea of corrective strategies. To solve this problem, iSTC started the "Data analysis services". iSTC will examine the data of 5 days of the company where the system is installed and suggest improvement measures and ideas. Utilizing the measures and ideas, some companies were able to increase volume per hour by 59% in 3 months with implementation of improvement measures based on independent analysis.
According to President Kimura "SMEs have plenty of scope for improvement in productivity and are quick to respond to changes. Transformation using IoT is the easiest for SMEs. Such challenges should be taken up".

Innovate with a Spirit to Take up Challenges

The system from iSTC has been installed in about 100 companies in approximately 1 year of service. The companies are from many industrial sectors such as mold manufacturing, painting industry, confectionery manufacturing, and pharmaceutical plants etc., 80% of which are SMEs.
Their goal for the future is to install the system in 2000 companies by 2020. President Kimura said, "Although it is a difficult target to achieve, it is necessary to promote IoT in SMEs".

In addition, they are developing solutions utilizing smart speakers of Amazon Web service etc. and started trial installation at Asahi Tekko. When the production line is stopped to replenish materials etc., workers must remove the gloves and enter stoppage information on the tablet. However, if there is a smart speaker, input can be completed by giving oral commands such as "Alexa, switching the equipment" etc. This prevents any interruption to work and is effective in reducing the stoppage time. They are examining to expand the range of services including utilization for attendance management.

Installation of the smart speaker of Amazon Web service

It is said that development of such new functions often starts from the "interesting" inspirations of employees. A corporate culture that challenges exciting or new things brings about further innovation.
iSTC has also cooperated with the government of Thailand and started verification tests at eight companies in Thailand since 2017. They want to focus attention on the future activities in driving "Industry 4.0" of factories across the world and not just in Japan.

[PV]iSTC x Asahi Ironworks Creation, Connected Industries

Interview Date: July 31, 2018


iSmart Technologies Corporation

The mission of iSmart Technologies Corporation is "Productivity improvement of SMEs" and offers the IoT solution "Manufacturing line remote monitoring system" which can be easily installed even in SMEs. They also provide data analysis and consulting services for operating conditions as well as training for development of improvement skills and human resource development through lecture meetings and workshops. In 2018, they received the seventh "Monodzukuri Nippon Special Prize" in January, and "SMART FACTORY AWARD 2018" in May.

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