DX Promotion and Planning
DX (digital transformation) generally refers to using digital technology to revolutionize a business or service. In 2016, THK added a change in business style to its previous growth strategies of full-scale globalization and the development of new business areas. Based on this new strategy, each division began actively working to improve its processes through AI and robots in addition to developing new products and services that utilize new technology. In 2019, we launched the THK DX Project to unify the efforts of each department by switching to a cross-departmental framework. Furthermore, in 2020 and beyond, we have strengthened our framework for taking action by establishing the new IOT Innovation Division and Service Robot Division. Our aim is not merely to improve customer satisfaction and make our internal processes more efficient through the use of the latest technology. We will continue to put effort into DX activities in order to provide value through innovation as a way to solve future social challnges such as labor shortages and the need to become a recycling-oriented society. To that end, we also aim to achieve a corporate and social environment where each and every employee can fuse in-person and digital methods and continue to grow.
In our existing component business, we are promoting various initiatives to give all our employees more time to devote to work with high added value. We will accomplish this through a fusion of traditional in-person connections (sales activities) and new digital connections that will enable us to deepen our relationships with customers (restructure the user experience) and utilize automation technology to reduce routine work. Omni THK is being developed as the core tool that will enable us to achieve these objectives.
Instead of the traditional method of requesting prices, shipping dates, CAD data, and technical information from a THK sales representative, customers can now access this valuable information at any time through a secure online app, which has boosted productivity. We are working on efforts that even involve revamping our internal processes in order to achieve a seamless operation where human intervention is not necessary between the quote/order stage and the production/shipping stage. By reducing routine work in this way, we aim to boost our customer service by increasing the amount of time employees can devote to solving customer issues. We will continue to develop applications that improve customer convenience and help digitalize customer movement, promoting the fusion of in-person and digital methods.
Realizing early on that the IoT was an effective technology for solving social challenges such as labor shortages and the need to boost productivity in the manufacturing industry, THK has been developing solutions to advance the adoption of the IoT worldwide. OMNIedge is an IoT service that can easily be retrofit onto equipment in use, is quick to set up, and is available for a reasonable price. Since its launch in 2020, we have developed three versions of this service.
In order to actively promote new business in concurrence with the first release phase, we established our new IOT Innovation Division to replace our previous framework of conducting interdepartmental projects on an individual basis.
We will continue to introduce solutions-not only for our own peripheral equipment, but for the greater market as well-that will reduce various types of efficiency loss on the production floor and improve overall equipment effectiveness (OEE*).
*OEE: A metric used for increasing production equipment efficiency.
Talent Development: Data Utilization Training
The greatest driving force behind DX activities is people, and THK is putting effort into developing digital talent.
In particular, we have been conducting data utilization training for all employees in Japan with the goal of having each location be able to utilize data in a unique and autonomous way. This training was established with a systematic, incremental curriculum, and participants are able to take courses appropriate to their skill level, position, and experience. In addition, we offere-learning and online course environments to make the program available to all locations. The curriculum and materials were all created internally, so they include analytical drills using actual internal data in addition to theoretical examples. Furthermore, access to internal data and an analytical environment are available so that the analytical case studies covered during training can immediately be applied in the workplace upon completion. We are working toward having every employee take the basic and beginner courses, and this goal is over 90% complete. The intermediate and advanced courses will be expanded throughout more of the company in 2023 and beyond in order to achieve more advanced data utilization (by using tools such as image recognition and demand forecasts based on machine learning).
Developing Digital Talent
Data Analysis Process
Data analysis starts with clarifying the goal of the analysis, proceeds with drafting a hypothesis about the cause of a problem and the testing of that hypothesis, and results in improvements.
1. Understand the current situation
Identify the problem and draft a hypothesis
2. Understand the data
Identify what kind of data is required
(Investigate data points, volume, and quality)
3. Prepare data
Pre-processing for visualization and analysis
(Data scrubbing, handling missing data, and sampling)
Data processing based on academic evidence
5. Make observations
Test the hypothesis and determine the problem's causes
6. Make improvements
Take action and move toward the next goal
Variance and Standard Deviation to Examine Distribution of Data
Variance and dispersion are metrics used to indicate how much deviation there is in a large set of data.
These values become the basis for further testing.
Excel calculation method: VAR function for variance, STDEV function for standard deviation
Data Integration (Data Warehouse) and Standard Tables
Data is integrated using a data warehouse, and standard tables are created on the BI tool server.
Online Beginner Training Courses
We hold online courses for employees in groups of ten.
Each person presents on their work challenges and data, conducting an analysis and generating improvement actions alongside discussion.
These employees are stimulated through communication with others in their cohort and by seeing each other grow. This also has the effect of exposing them to the work of other departments.
The production division took its first steps toward promoting automation, robotization, and instrumentation in 2015, dubbing their effort the ARI1 Project, using the initials of each word. Automation plans are drafted at every production facility at the beginning of each year, and monthly status reports are given as automation efforts move forward.
We are promoting a transition from manned operations to unmanned ones through the installation of robots, imaging inspection machines, and other equipment at traditionally manual processes such as assembly, measurement, and inspection. In doing so, we aim to further improve quality and stabilize our supply to customers.
We are promoting robots and perpendicular loaders for in-process automated transfers as well as AGVs2 and AMRs3 for automated transfers between processes. Doing so allows us to improve the stability of our supply structure through labor savings and the extension of operating time.
We created a cloud system for the purpose of obtaining quality and machine operation data. This data is now visualized on a daily basis, and its utilization allows us to expand to new improvement activities. We have also started to collect machine status information by utilizing various types of sensors, such as with IO-Link4 and OMNIedge. Going forward, we will continue to work to maximize overall equipment effectiveness by pushing forward with automation and improvements to efficiency.
1 ARI: An abbreviation of Automation, Robotization, and Instrumentation.
2 AGV: An abbreviation of Automated Guided Vehicle, a form of unmanned material transfer.
3 AMR: An abbreviation of Autonomous Mobile Robot. A robot that can detect irregularities and steps in its path while freely moving forward, backward, left, and right toward its destination.
4 IO-Link: Connection technology necessary for the transmission of signals to sensors and actuators.