Toshiba’s young engineers: Envisioning the future of the manufacturing industry with the power of data
2022/05/31 Toshiba Clip Team
- The key to success is value created from data collected in manufacturing processes.
- Redefining digitization to maximize value with customer-focused proposals!
- Continue to be meticulous and attentive to meet expectations and contribute to society.
The advent of the electronic computer has caused our world and lives to evolve at a dizzying speed in many ways. With IT also being used in the manufacturing process, the key to success is how to make use of the data collected in various scenarios.
Toshiba has pioneered this new age of manufacturing with its cyber-physical systems (CPS) technology, made possible by manufacturing expertise accumulated over the nearly 150 years since its founding, and its world-leading digital technology and data analysis capabilities. Amid these societal trends, just how do Toshiba engineers, who have grown up as digital natives, envision the world of the future? And how do they plan to change it?
Taking on the challenge of digitization to transform manufacturing sites
Tetsuyuki Ikeda, an engineer at Toshiba Digital Solutions Corporation, is at the forefront of Toshiba Group’s initiatives to achieve digital transformation (DX). While Ikeda is just in his second year with the company, he has the important role as one of the team developing and implementing the Factory IoT Platform, which is a solution for manufacturers that brings together the manufacturing expertise and cutting-edge digital technology Toshiba has accumulated through the years.
“My job is converting and accumulating the various events that occur in the manufacturing process into digital data, and using that data to study and propose mechanisms for increasing productivity and quality.”
Tetsuyuki Ikeda, Factory Solutions Engineering Group, Smart Manufacturing Solutions Dept.,
ICT Solutions Div., Toshiba Digital Solutions Corporation
For example, one factor that hinders productivity improvement at manufacturing sites is the burden of identifying the causes of defective products. When and where did the defect occur? What was the cause? It is usually necessary to narrow down the cause of the defect by manually checking related documents and other information among various disparate pieces of information. However, when defects occur it is usually due to one or more the 5M1E*, such as changes in equipment, materials, and human resources. Digitization and visualization of 5M1E information will enable rapid estimation of the cause of defect occurrence.
*5M1E: Man, Method, Measurement, Material, Machine, Environment
The Factory IoT Platform that Ikeda works with integrates and manages data across multiple plants, such as processing plants and assembly plants, and across different processes to provide traceability and visualization. By using the amassed data to reproduce the manufacturing process in cyberspace as a Digital Twin, a virtual model created in cyberspace that accurately simulates the physical original, it is possible to support not only on-site.
“Using the Factory IoT Platform makes it possible to anticipate problems that may occur and to aim for further efficiency. Toshiba’s experience and expertise in manufacturing, accumulated over 140 years since its founding, is indispensable for gathering, accumulating, and analyzing such data.”
Just what does this mean? According to Ikeda, when it comes to data, its nature and the way it is collected differ depending on the plant and the process. Data cannot be utilized across processes if it is still mixed and fragmented, which is one of the reasons that digitization is not yet as widely adopted in manufacturing industry as it could be. This is where Toshiba’s manufacturing expertise comes in handy, Ikeda says.
“We can make the best proposals to our customers only when we have both a systems perspective and a manufacturing perspective—what kind of data should be collected in what kind of manufacturing process, and what form of data to convert it into to enable integrated management and the expected utilization of the data?”
However, he says it is not simply a case of obtaining the data and showing analysis results. In order to get customers to recognize its value and introduce it on site, it is essential to convince them of its value. There is also resistance to transforming manufacturing processes using data. At plants, there are still processes that are managed on paper. These processes themselves were originally introduced for efficient operations. Ikeda says that even if he emphasizes that using data will improve efficiency and productivity, getting customers to accept it is no mean feat. So, just how does Ikeda engage with these habits?
“I show the ideal image of what benefits data-driven process reform can bring to the customer’s manufacturing, and break down the steps to get there. I am sure that our customers will come to understand our thorough proposals based on our understanding of the actual situation gained from visiting the site. Rather than suddenly deciding on a manufacturing DX goal and guiding customers to it, I believe it is important to share a goal vision with customers and work steadily, one step at a time, together with them.”
Ikeda says he proactively makes presentation materials in order to provide thorough explanations
Firsthand knowledge of the appeal of data generated from things
As a student, Ikeda majored in mechanical control. During his undergraduate studies, he simulated shapes that reduce aerodynamic drag for chair skis used by Paralympic athletes. At graduate school, he also studied mobility for efficient movement over soft ground for planetary exploration, where he collected data from the movements of a robot and made simulations.
“Unfortunately, there weren’t any opportunities for the results of my simulations to actually be tested. However, my experience of analyzing data on the aerodynamic drag of actual chair skis and the robot’s movement on soft ground helped me develop a firsthand understanding of how real-world data can link in to the next value. That is the basis of my current work.”
Initially, Ikeda says that he didn’t expect that his research and the CPS technologies that Toshiba works on would be aligned. CPS creates value by analyzing real-world data in cyberspace and feeding it back into the real world again as information and knowledge that is easy to utilize. Ikeda felt that this coincided with his research to analyze and simulate data generated from chair skis and robots and reflect it in new forms.
Ikeda first learned about Toshiba’s CPS during a Toshiba information session he attended during his job hunt. There, he was fascinated by the CPS technologies described by Toshiba’s engineers and thought of it as the path he should take. After joining the company, he says that he has been able to create value based on data and work toward the goal of DX in the manufacturing industry precisely because he is an engineer with knowledge of the field and strengths in mechanical systems.
He says work styles have changed significantly following the introduction of systems such as remote work and hot-desking due to the COVID-19 pandemic
“Actually, before joining Toshiba, I thought it was a more rigid and formal company. I was ready to be integrated into a big system and to only be able to express my own personality after I had reached a much higher rank. So, I think that my expectations were wrong, in a good way.”
Ikeda says that he realized immediately after joining the company that there were high expectations for him. For example, he was tasked with creating documents to explain the benefits of striving for DX to customers. What kind of explanations do customers find difficult to understand? What sort of wording catches them off guard? What sort of points should be focused on in communications? Ikeda was entrusted with creating documents that answered each of these questions. These documents have now become part of standard proposals, and have been used by dozens of sales representatives and engineers when making proposals to customers. The value generated by the intellect of one young person has spreads throughout the organization.
Of course, he did not accomplish all this alone. Many of Ikeda’s seniors and superiors supported him, encouraging his desire to live up to their expectations. Ikeda says the following about how he feels about their advice and usual way of working.
“I just wanted to take on any and all challenges. I worked on each task one by one and correct the course of action with advice from my seniors. I am happy when people respond to my desire to learn and take action.
And my seniors definitely don’t compromise. No matter how small the task, they do not overlook possibilities that may lead to a solution to a problem, and they work diligently to accumulate results. I have come to understand that these efforts, which are invisible to customers, are the foundation of the value that Toshiba creates.”
Currently, Ikeda says that his desire to do work that requires English has been realized, and he will be in charge of an overseas project. We’re sure that we will be able to find Ikeda full of smiles as he enjoys his work at overseas sites.
＊All titles and content are as at the time of writing.
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Factory IoT Platform | TOSHIBA DIGITAL SOLUTIONS CORPORATION
TOSHIBA Cyber Physical Systems | Toshiba