BreakThrough Interview

Supporting Productivity Improvements and Revitalization of Manufacturing in Local SMEs through Consultation on Introducing Industrial Robots and Developing EngineersSagamihara Incubation Center Ltd.’s Sagamihara Robot Support Center

2016.09.28

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  • In September 2015, Sagamihara Robot Support Center was opened within Sagamihara Incubation Center (SIC), which was founded by investments from Sagamihara city, SME Support, Japan, and private companies. We interviewed Takafumi Miyakawa, Overall Coordinator of the Robot Support Center, regarding the types of activities that they have been carrying out since inception.

Three core activities: explanation and awareness-building of robots, fostering human resources, and automation consulting

Robot Support Center features the ability of a systems integrator to optimize manufacturing processes and conceive systems combined with the functions of dispatching experts, fostering human resources, and building awareness. One of the initiatives conducted as part of fostering human resources is various kinds of seminars held several times throughout the year, which have been popular by and large. In addition to seminars on robotics, offering education on operation of robots for free, Miyakawa states that the seminars on automation and labor-saving support are specifically composed based on their personal ideals. The Center not only offers opportunities to learn about robotics, it also helps mid-level engineers working at manufacturing companies hoping to improve productivity learn approaches, knowledge, and case studies from university professors, academic officials, and engineers of manufacturing companies.

It upholds a firm policy with regards to automation consulting. “Many people come here with the aim of introducing robots [into their manufacturing lines], because of the name of the Center, but we don’t offer consulting that takes the introduction of robots for granted. We first listen to the visitors of what they want to do, and what problems they are facing. Depending on the content of business or operations, we prioritize consulting on matters such as improving manufacturing processes, operational improvements, replacing manual work with jigs, and implementing low cost automation (LCA). Based on that, if we determine that it would be best to use robots, then we take a bird’s-eye view of their manufacturing processes and propose an optimal system including the review of processes and usage of ancillary equipment,” states Miyakawa.

Among the dozen or so companies that the Center has provided consulting to (based on on-site diagnosis) so far, the Center was able to help solve the problems only through improvements in manufacturing processes and operations for half of them. Roughly one-third of all companies actually introduced robots into their manufacturing lines.

Takafumi Miyakawa, Overall Coordinator,
Sagamihara Robot Support Center, Sagamihara Incubation Center

Gaining a clearer image of robot automation by actually seeing, touching, and experiencing real moving robots

At Robot Support Center, three patterns of model systems are always on exhibit so that visitors can gain a clearer image of introducing robots into general manufacturing sites.

One pattern is the Vision Tracking System, which combines horizontal and vertical poly-articulated robots. It is based on the concept of using robots on flow operations using conveyors.
Another pattern is the Work Handling System, using a 7-axis industrial robot. This system conceptualizes the attachment and detachment of processed objects from and to machining tools.
The last pattern is the Assembly System, using a dual-arm robot. It envisions a manufacturing site where people and robots coexist and work together side by side.

The first step to productivity improvements is to notice problems that are hidden in the operational processes

According to Miyakawa, “First, you need to notice [the problems]. While these words are well-known to the public, the viewing approaches of viewpoint, field of view, and point of view are important. It’s important to overlook the entirety [of the manufacturing process] in the beginning, and then you gradually narrow down the field of view while pin-pointing the viewpoint, and then concentrate the point of view on the parts that raises doubts.” He further states, “When you conceptualize yourself working on those areas that you found to be somewhat odd through these three viewing approaches, you will most likely notice the problems. After that, a small group within the company needs to discuss those problematic points. It’s also important to reference the thoughts of experts outside of the company. Employees will also be able to learn through that process.”

In some cases, on-site workers misunderstand that they will lose their jobs in the process of implementing business improvements and labor-saving and put up a resistance. In such instances, Miyakawa conveys the following message to managers: “Human resources that have been cut through labor-saving can be used effectively in other ways. Since they have gained new skills in the process of implementing labor-saving initiatives, they’ll surely be able to take on work with higher value-add. It’ll definitely open up new pathways for all companies.”

He states, “My policy is to have visitors consider [the introduction of robots] on a realistic level, including cost effectiveness, rather than offer a dreamy fairy tale, so that I can give proposals with confidence. I want people who think that industrial robots are a panacea to have a correct understanding of them. At [Robot Support Center], we offer consultations for free and we can also provide various information. We hope [interested companies] will visit our Center.”

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Sagamihara Robot Support Center

At Robot Support Center, three patterns of model systems are always on exhibit so that visitors can gain a clearer image of introducing robots into general manufacturing sites.

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