Interview – Faisal Pandit

APEX is the most important platform for the launch of new equipment in the United States. What new products will we see from the Panasonic stable?

At APEX 2017, we will highlight Smart Factory Solutions for “Any Mix, Any Volume”. It’s an evolution from our prior “Total Solutions” theme with a focus on connectivity and new innovations—that our solutions are Industry 4.0-ready. Beyond M2M and business systems integration via PanaCIM , we have launched our Work-in-Process module, an enterprise-level software solution that seamlessly integrates different factory automation systems into a single entity for traceability of any product, any process, regardless of manufacturing mix or volume.

As for innovations, there are several. We’ll feature the new NPM-DX, a next-generation platform that leapfrogs part range, speed, and capability while reducing resource requirements with novel approaches to automated error recovery for uninterrupted production. Another game changer is the NPM-VF, the industry’s only dual-gantry, multi-head, odd-form solution that automates previously hand-placed parts.

We’ll also premier the NPM-W2S that leverages the heritage of the award-winning NPM platform, yet in a cost-effective, scalable, single-beam platform ideal for high mix lines building complex assemblies or to complement the NPM-W2 as a lower-cost line booster.

In addition, we’ll exhibit the new LPS-C Laser Marker that incorporates our own CO2 laser (one of the industry’s popular laser technologies) and integrates it with PanaCIM to enable complete traceability.

New Panasonic equipment, new best-in-class complementary solutions from our now nearly 40 technology partners, plus new capabilities of our extensive software portfolio will all be shown at APEX and will serve to underpin our market leadership position.

Panasonic is one of the early promoters of the full line solution. You now have completed a number of successful installations. Can you tell us about some of the tangible benefits these have generated?

We were one of the first to introduce full line solutions and we have enjoyed numerous successful installations. Regarding benefits, customers have shared that Panasonic serving as a single point of contact is overwhelmingly the best benefit to them. Whether it’s to free up their engineering bandwidth, augment their staff, manage their project entirely, or build a reproducible model to deploy globally—the common benefit is that customers are able to concentrate on running their business while we manage their production launch.

Can you elaborate on what Panasonic is doing in M2M communication for process optimization?

Since our beginnings, Panasonic founder Konosuke Matsushita focused on manufacturing innovation. Using our own collective expertise, Panasonic is focused on transforming the manufacturing process from isolated silos to a “lean, agile, and integrated” ecosystem. In fact, Panasonic has opened its IoT technology patents as OpenDOF (www.opendof.org) to expedite adoption. We encourage other organizations to follow suit and foster collaboration, innovation, and interoperability.

Specific to M2M communication, we are using PanaCIM and other software capabilities to help machines talk to each other–across the aisle or the globe. The equipment are building blocks to solve the challenges. It’s the software that combines data and provides salient information to verify production results, predict necessary operator actions, trigger changeover activities, and even trace products across the factory.

Panasonic has the distinctive ability to provide total solutions beyond the production line. While we can provide best-in-class hardware and software tools from our own portfolio, we are leading a supplier collective, which allows us to provide turnkey solutions for various application and business models.

You integrate with a lot of third party vendors. Can you work with any other piece of production equipment, or are there some software interfaces you cannot work with?

Yes, we integrate with many complementary partners, and to date, we haven’t encountered an interface that we could not connect with. Sure, some protocols require new software development if we haven’t integrated with them previously, but that just takes collaboration and a little time. Our experience is that our partners see the value that integration brings to them and the end customer. They see that it’s necessary for them to be relevant in the Smart Factory.

Can you achieve the same level of optimization when working with third party equipment or customer’s existing systems, versus a full Panasonic line solution?

Over the years, Panasonic has built a broad framework that has matured to be very comprehensive and flexible—easily integrating third party platforms. You see, Panasonic’s core competencies allow us the opportunity to collaborate with partner companies to provide a turnkey solution integrated with PanaCIM. In addition, different customers and different customer locations (if a global entity) often have different vendor preferences for complementary technologies. In summary, yes, we can achieve the same level of optimization no matter whose equipment is included.

How successful has your Cloud 9 Innovation Center been and give us some examples of success stories resulting from the new center?

Cloud9 offers customers a location to visit that has the infrastructure and the expertise at hand to discuss and review all aspects of a deployment before an actual line goes into production. It’s more than basic operations, it’s a resource to apply advanced engineering, subject matter expertise, and advanced lab work to ensure that all issues are worked through and customers know what to expect. It’s been very popular with customers and very successful for us.

Cloud9 offers customers a location to visit that has the infrastructure and the expertise at hand to discuss and review all aspects of a deployment before an actual line goes into production.

Regarding examples of success, a large OEM wanted to manufacture new products in a North American facility, but didn’t have the staff or expertise to build a circuit board… In fact, they had never built a board in-house before. Our Engineering team collaborated with them to select a mix of Panasonic and partner equipment that could build to their specs. We set up the entire line in our Cloud9 Innovation Center where the customer ran boards and accepted the solution. The model has been successful for them and they are reproducing it on a global scale.

In another case, an EMS had a mix of older, outdated equipment and some newer pieces, but wanted to upgrade their capability so they could compete for automotive market contracts. Similar to the OEM model I just mentioned, we incorporated their existing usable technology and added additional equipment. They had a knowledgeable Engineering Department, so rather than Panasonic managing the project, our staff augmented their staff where needed and added traceability, material management, etc. Net-net, they are now a supplier to automotive.

What are the biggest challenges you have in developing a fully optimized line?

Without doubt, the biggest challenge in developing a fully optimized line is the integration. Yes, it’s an accomplishment to establish needed connectivity with complementary technologies, but the greater task is in maintaining it. Just like how we continually evolve our product portfolio with new capabilities, so are our partners… So we have established protocols to align their product development with our integration efforts.

With the new political administration in the United States pursuing a strong pro-manufacturing agenda, are you anticipating an uptick in sales within your US division?

Before we experience an uptick in sales, I believe the administration will have to solve what I believe are the three primary challenges: the lack of a supply chain, the lack of skilled labor, and the high cost of labor.

There is a lot of political chatter right now, but we haven’t heard or seen plans… and one must consider that an uptick in US manufacturing could come at the cost of China and Mexico. That aside, I believe we’ll see far more investment in automation and robotics to reduce labor costs… And that’s where the Smart Factory comes in.

–TREVOR GALBRAITH