factoryfuture5

Ordering a smart factory could well be as easy as ordering a Camry!

Factories built in a factory
In the not-too-distant future—which will be much sooner than anyone today thinks possible—any manufacturer will be able to order a smart factory right out of an online catalog. 

Just build the four walls of the physical structure, order online the complete production equipment that ideally suits the product to be manufactured, and then wait for the container shipments to arrive.

Installation of that factory of the future will be as easy as snapping Legos together.

Sensors in every machine within that factory will constantly monitor themselves, sending a continual flow of operational data for analysis to a data center. That feedback loop of data will keep tabs on the mechanical functions of all the production machinery.  In addition to preventive interventions, the data will also serve to report on all manufacturing processes with an eye toward continual process improvement.

Software upgrades will tumble in from the Cloud; timely, plug-and-play machine upgrades will near-magically materialize at the receiving dock.

Business booming? Need another factory? Order one online again.

Whoever can successfully build the first factory that builds factories will own the future of manufacturing, as well as the fantastic wealth that will come with it.

More than likely the first factory that builds factories will be located somewhere in Japan.

Team Japan’s juggernaut
Back in 2014, which seems today light years ago, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revealed plans for “a task force to develop Japan’s robot industry and to triple the size of the market for the machines to $24 billion.”

To Japan’s Jiji Press agency, Abe said: “We want to make robots a major pillar of our economic growth strategy.”

 And he wants it done by 2020, the year Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympic Games, as well as 2020’s World Robot Summit, plus the annual Cutting-Edge IT & Electronics Comprehensive Exhibition (CEATEC)—Asia’s biggest tech fair—with 800-plus exhibitors and 150,000 visitors.

To be at or near the unveiling of that first factory of factories in 2020 would be a stunning public relations coup for Abe and Team Japan.  The esteem that would attend Abe’s announcement would make Japan’s manufacturing and tech prowess the frontrunner for decades.

Realistically, that’s exactly what Japan not only wants but desperately needs for its ailing economy.

Ailing is kind, roiling is more like it. The Financial Times noted (November 8) that $30 billion toppled from corporate Japan’s first-half revenues, which has its biggest companies bracing for the worst earnings slump in five years.

Team Japan knows it needs to act immediately, and it’s doing just that. From its past glory days, Japan certainly has the stashed bankroll to finance any size factory-of-factories undertaking.

Also realistically, given its grand manufacturing successes with automobiles, computers, electronics and robots, Team Japan has to be the odds-on favorite to pull it off. 

Still Up for Grabs:
Global Standards!

Factory
in a Box

No more high-tech pachinko
High-tech corporate rivalries abound in Japan; the acrimony between Honda and Yamaha, for example, is legend. Like pachinko balls bouncing off pins, companies went their own ways and guarded their tech with smothering efficiency. Not any longer. For the good of the country and its survival, scores of former competitors are creating alliances and banding their tech together—or at least temporarily exposing some of their tech through partnerships.

Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s president, admitted: “Toyota has not been good with alliances and we’ve traditionally been focused on doing things on our own. But there is a limit to the technologies that a single company can develop on its own.”

The consequences of digging in and continuing to go it alone are striking:  Sharp, for example, refused a merger and was gobbled up by Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision.

Another, reports the Nikkei Asian Review, is Nikon, “which is drastically slimming down its once proud semiconductor equipment operation because the group’s go-it-alone strategy couldn’t cope with the shifting global technological landscape.”

“Right now, the deals are only being done for the sake of cost competitiveness, but really they must be driven by technology and R&D,” says Hiroyuki Yamato, president of the National Institute of Maritime, Port and Aviation Technology.

However, some dissenters remain, like former SONY CEO Kazuo Hirai, who, after a tough restructuring, banded together the corporation’s tech into what he called “One SONY” in order to go after “shining opportunities in robotics and artificial intelligence.”

That, of course, sounds a lot like advice from SONY’s robot guru Hiroaki Kitano,the company’s president and CEO of Sony Computer Science Laboratories, who is actively pushing SONY “to become a leader in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence.”

For the Japanese juggernaut to build the factory of factories it will take everyone, SONY included. Anything short of that offers Team China a distinct advantage, and the Chinese are definitely watching.

Softbank’s new $32 billion acquisition of chip designer ARM Holdings already sees ARM rapidly swinging into position for a good run at the Industrial Internet of Things.

Although ARM is primarily known for its power-pinching chips for Smartphones, it seeks to “play a similarly central role in the dawning era of the Internet of Things, where everything from cars to farm equipment to appliances is equipped with silicon smarts and can communicate across one giant network.”

All those chips in factories would benefit from miserly use of power, so ARM may have an edge in getting a foothold. ARM CEO Simon Segars sees the “development of artificial intelligence…being furthered by a fusion of hardware and software. AI is the key to a foray into the market for the Internet of Things,” says Segars.

That same penchant for the Internet of Things is very much in top of mind with Softbank’s CEO Masayoshi Son, who “believes the Internet of Things will be the next big thing after mobile phones to transform the industrial structure.”

Lego by Lego , Japan is building out the capability to master the onrushing factory of factories. Whether is robot and systems ventures like FANUC and Cisco, smaller-scale pickups as with Tokyo-based AI firm, Preferred Networks, or all-Japan alliances among former bitter rivals in order to pool precious resources for advanced R&D or even in mega-buys like the big bucks spent on ARM, Japan is ramping up on factory automation that may well beat Abe’s timetable for 2020.

A quick look around the factory automation/Industrial Internet of Things space is showing Japan in the lead with no one even a close second.​..yet!

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