Boy, do Fanuc and Cisco have a deal for your factory
TOKYO -- Fanuc and Cisco Systems are set to commercialize a technology this summer that promises glitch- and disruption-free factory operations. The Internet of Things-based system monitors machinery and spots signs of possible abnormalities so that parts can be replaced more smoothly and without affecting operations.
The technology is a marriage of Japan's advanced robot technology and America's information technology. Fanuc, an industrial robot maker, and Cisco, the communications network developer, hope their unconventional system attracts global demand from automakers and other manufacturers wishing to increase factory efficiency.
Sensors on robots
Japan's Fanuc controls about 20% of the global industrial robot market. It has a broad understanding of how temperatures and operational status change before robots break down. Cisco contributed expertise in network development and big data analysis.
A one-minute suspension at a car factory generally costs around 2 million yen ($16,900). If, for example, a gear breaks and operations are halted for 60 minutes to replace it, the costs would be 120 million yen. Frequent line stoppages could also affect product quality.
The Fanuc-Cisco system uses sensors attached to each robot carrying or welding parts to monitor temperatures, vibration and other conditions. Data streams are sent via the Internet. A computer analyzes the data and decides which parts will likely need fixing and when. The system also places orders for replacements. The accuracy of the system's prediction and analysis functions will increase as data accumulates, representatives from the companies said.
Actual repair work will still need to be done manually. But the new system will allow for these jobs to be done on weekends and at other times when the lines are already down.
Though manufacturers' initial investment will be slightly higher, the new system promises to help them increase competitiveness by boosting efficiency and quality. It will be available as an option beginning this summer. "We want to reduce downtime to zero," Fanuc Executive Vice Presidend Kiyonori Inaba said on Thursday.
The Internet of Things is allowing for a production revolution. Japanese electronics maker Hitachi plans to establish a system that creates online links among all production phases at factories and warehouses so stocks can be automatically replenished in real time. The system promises production efficiency gains of 25%.
Japan's Komatsu uses a similar technology to gather operational data on its construction machinery in use around the world. The system notifies Komatsu customers before their machines break down.
Outside Japan, Germany is said to be leading the Internet of Things movement. Under government leadership, major automakers and component suppliers are beginning to connect their factories with sensors and online technologies. The idea is that sharing production status and other information among companies will boost industrial competitiveness.
Fanuc and Cisco are touting their system as easy to implement by any company; they also say it can help companies enter new markets.