Japanese companies form alliance to accelerate smart factories

Japanese companies form alliance to accelerate smart factories

Flexible Factory Partner Alliance forms to accelerate use of IoT in factories

A group of companies in Japan have formed the Flexible Factory Partner Alliance (FFPA) in order to encourage the use of IoT in factories.

The Flexible Factory Partner Alliance has been set up in response to changing patterns in the global labor market and pressure on manufacturers to adopt new technologies to improve productivity, according to the partners.

Labor shortages and a reduced number of skilled workers, due to falling birthrates and an aging population, mean that product development cycles have shortened in recent years. People over the age of 65 already make up a quarter of Japan’s population, and this could reach 40 percent by 2060. As such, manufacturers are looking to deploy industrial IoT technology in their factories to compensate for a smaller workforce.

The group of seven includes technology vendors Omron, Sanritz Automation, NEC, Fujitsu, Murata Machinery, and two research institutes in the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) and the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). These organizations will be chaired by Professor Andreas Dengel of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI)).

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Wireless comms

In particular, the alliance is concerned with the adoption of wireless communications technology for machine operation. It asserts that, while there has been a trend of manufacturing facilities deploying wireless communications on a trial basis, and subsequently fully implementing wireless systems based on these trials, little attention has been paid to one major issue. In short, in factories where wireless systems coexist, instability is often caused by interference between wireless systems. This can disrupt equipment in operation on the factory floor.

In a bid to address the problem, the Alliance claims it has been conducting trials of wireless communications and evaluating wireless environments in factories. The organizations involved have proposed one coordination control technology to enable stability in wireless communications, suggesting it would work by controlling independent wireless systems for each piece of equipment, with specific use cases in actual manufacturing facilities in mind.

Now, however, their attention is turning to the creation of standards for coordination control technology, which, they say, will ensure stable communications in any environment where various wireless systems coexist.

The Alliance aims to spread these standards to the wider manufacturing community for security purposes, but at the same time, it does not want to discourage the the adoption of wireless systems in factories and manufacturing facilities. The organizations say they want to promote the application of wireless communications to accompany the spread of IoT in these environments.

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