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7220 - Musashi Seimitsu Industry Co News Story

¥2068 -39.0  -1.9%

Last Trade - 6:40am

Sector
Consumer Cyclicals
Size
Mid Cap
Market Cap £914.7m
Enterprise Value £1.34bn
Revenue £1.31bn
Position in Universe 663rd / 3901

UPDATE 1-Japan looks to AI as coronavirus challenges go-and-see quality control mantra

Mon 31st August, 2020 8:28am
(Adds Japan Display comment)
    By Naomi Tajitsu and Makiko Yamazaki
    TOKYO, Aug 31 (Reuters) - At a factory south of Japan's
Toyota City, robots have started sharing the work of
quality-control inspectors, as the pandemic accelerates a shift
from Toyota's vaunted "go and see" system which helped
revolutionise mass production in the 20th century.
    Inside the auto-parts plant of Musashi Seimitsu Industry Co
Ltd  7220.T , a robotic arm picks up and spins a bevel gear,
scanning its teeth against a light in search of surface flaws.
The inspection takes about two seconds - similar to that of
highly trained employees who check around 1,000 units per shift.
    "Inspecting 1,000 of the exact same thing day-in day-out
requires a lot of skill and expertise, but it's not very
creative," Chief Executive Hiroshi Otsuka told Reuters. "We'd
like to release workers from those tasks."
    Global manufacturers have long used robots in production
while leaving the knotty work of spotting flaws mainly to
humans. But social distancing measures to prevent the spread of
COVID-19 have prompted a rethink of the factory floor.
    That has spurred the increased use of robots and other
technology for quality control, including remote monitoring
which was already being adopted before the pandemic.
    
    For a chart on global installations of manufacturing robots,
click here https://tmsnrt.rs/34yOHYz.
    
    In Japan, such approaches represent an acute departure from
the "genchi genbutsu", go-and-see methodology developed as part
of the Toyota Production System and embraced by Japanese
manufacturers for decades with almost religious zeal.
    That process tasks workers with constantly monitoring all
aspects of the production line to spot irregularities, and has
made quality control one of the last human hold-outs in
otherwise automated factories.
    Yet even at Toyota Motor Corp  7203.T  itself, when asked
about automating more genchi genbutsu procedures, a spokesman
said: "We are always looking at ways to improve our
manufacturing processes, including automating processes where it
makes sense to do so."
    
    QUALITY DEMANDS
    Improvements in artificial intelligence (AI) have come in
tandem with increasingly affordable equipment but also stricter
quality requirements from customers. 
    "We're increasingly seeing a gap between the quality of
products made on regular production lines and the quality our
customers demand," said Kazutaka Nagaoka, chief manufacturing
officer at Japan Display  6740.T , a supplier to Apple Inc
 AAPL.O  as well as numerous automakers.
    "The quality of products made on automated lines is
overwhelmingly higher, and more consistent."
    However, automating inspections is challenging, given the
need to teach robots to identify tens of thousands of possible
defects for a specific product and apply that learning
instantly.
    Musashi Seimitsu's low defect rate of one per 50,000 units
left the firm without enough defective examples to develop an
efficient AI algorithm.
    But a solution came from Israeli entrepreneur Ran Poliakine,
who applied AI and optics technology he had used in medical
diagnostics to the production line.
    His idea was to teach the machine to spot the good, rather
than the bad, by basing the algorithm on up to 100 perfect or
near-perfect units - a modification of the so-called golden
sample.
    "If you look at human tissue, you are teaching an algorithm
what is good and what is not good, and you only have one second
to perform the diagnostic," he said.
    
    'ON STEROIDS'
    Since the breakthrough, Poliakine's startup SixAI and
Musashi Seimitsu have established MusashiAI, a joint venture
which develops and hires out quality control robots - a first in
the field.
    Enquiries from automakers, parts suppliers and other firms
in Japan, India, the United States and Europe have quadrupled
since March when the novel coronavirus went global, Poliakine
said.
    "COVID-19 has accelerated the move. Everything is on
steroids now, because working from home is showing that remote
work can work," he said.
    
    For a chart on the five biggest users of manufacturing
robots, click here https://tmsnrt.rs/3hxNlB1.
    
    Earlier this year auto parts maker Marelli, which has
operational headquarters in Japan and Italy, also began using AI
quality inspection robots at a plant in Japan, and told Reuters
last month that it wanted AI to play a bigger role in quality
inspections in the coming years.
    Printer maker Ricoh Co Ltd  7752.T , plans to automate all
of the production processes for drum units and toner cartridges
at one of its Japan plants by March 2023. Robots perform most of
the processes already, and since April, technicians have been
monitoring equipment on the factory floor from home.
    "Of course, you need to be on site to assess and execute
solutions when issues come up, but identifying and confirming
are tasks we can now do from home," said Kazuhiro Kanno, general
manager at Ricoh's printer manufacturing unit.
    Musashi Seimitsu will not say when it envisions its factory
floors to be fully automated, but Otsuka said AI stands to
complement, not threaten, the go-and-see system. 
    "AI doesn't ask 'Why? Why?' but humans do. We're hoping to
free them up to ask why and how defects occur," he said. "This
will enable more people to look for ways to constantly improve
production, which is the purpose of 'genchi genbutsu'."

 (Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu and Makiko Yamazaki; Additional
reporting by Maki Shiraki and Noriyuki Hirata; Editing by David
Dolan and Christopher Cushing)
 ((naomi.tajitsu@thomsonreuters.com; +81364411078; Reuters
Messaging: naomi.tajitsu.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))
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