Not only does 2017 mark Okuma Corporation’s 120th anniversary, it is also the year that the CNC machine tool maker opened its second state-of-the-art smart factory, Dream Site 2, at its headquarters in Oguchi-cho, Niwa-gun, Aichi Prefecture, about 150 miles west of Tokyo and served by Nagoya airport – the company’s UK representative is NCMT (https://is.gd/obukon).

Image caption: Okuma Corporation president and CEO Yoshimaro Hanaki says Dream Site 3 is in the planning stage. The technology that Okuma has put to use in its own factories is being made available to its customers. The EMO exhibition this month will underline that

Just ahead of this year’s EMO in Hanover (see p27), Hanaki spoke to Machinery about the growing significance of smart manufacturing and the underlying philosophy that has been a driver of innovation at Okuma for over a century.

Q - Your second smart factory for Okuma machine tool production has recently started operation. What is the significance of smart manufacturing for Okuma?

A - We opened our first start-to-finish smart factory, Dream Site 1, in 2013 for the production of multi-tasking machines plus medium-sized and large lathes. The facility enabled us to shorten lead times and increase productivity significantly by integrating machine tools and robots with the Internet of Things (IoT).

With Dream Site 2 [an €8 million investment], we have further increased automation and efficiency for the production of parts for our small- and medium-sized lathes and grinders. Even material and parts handling between different processing stages is completely automated. The factory utilises smart machines and IoT, aiming to achieve production efficiency equivalent to mass production within a super-high-mix, low-volume production line.

These advancements are not only significant for us, but also for our customers. The know-how we obtained through the construction of Dream Site 1 and Dream Site 2 has led to significant developments, in terms of smart manufacturing. This expertise continues to inform solutions and proposals for our customers that will greatly contribute to advancing their manufacturing and production systems.

In Japan, we currently have approximately 50 companies inquiring about our Smart Factory Solutions (see August’s EMO feature at https://is.gd/gomowe), which utilise IoT to increase efficiency and productivity.

We are also collaborating with electronics and machinery provider Hitachi on developing Smart Factory Solutions for middle-sized and major manufacturing companies.

Q - Are there currently any plans for a third Dream Site?

A - The date of construction, the factory layout and other specifics of DS3 are under consideration. The concrete schedule will be determined in the near future.

We are currently focusing on enhancing the Dream Site 2 parts factory. The next step will be the construction of an assembly area to turn DS2 into a self-contained integrated production facility, capable of doing everything from machining parts to assembling the machine tool. We are also planning to reorganise both our Oguchi headquarters plant and Kani plant to increase efficiency.

Q - The tagline for this year’s EMO is ‘Connecting systems for intelligent production’. How do the Okuma innovations presented at the fair adhere to this motto?

A - We believe there are two crucial ingredients for a state-of-the-art smart factory and our EMO exhibits reflect this.

The first is smart machines. At the fair, we are introducing an absolute highlight that takes the idea of multi-tasking to the next level: Our Laser EX machines combine turning, milling, laser hardening and laser metal deposition in a single machine tool. They are especially useful for high-mix, low-volume production. Overall, there is a growing focus on mass customisation, as opposed to mass production.

In addition, our new 5-axis vertical machining centre MU-S600V was developed in response to this. The machine enables completely unmanned transfers of a part from one unit to a potentially infinite number of connected additional units to form a smart production line. The machine provides a high degree of flexibility and allows for changes in production volume and type.

Software is the second ingredient of smart manufacturing. Our Smart Factory Solutions were specifically designed as a method of improving production efficiency. We want to significantly reduce the time from drawing to the actual machining of the workpiece. Our software 3D Virtual Monitor allows customers to plan and simulate the entire cutting process ahead of time. This is especially useful to increase efficiency for smaller batches.

In order to reduce the time from production planning to shipment, our Smart Factory Solutions offer ways to optimise the workpiece flow through visualisation. The applications show the progress of production, a machine’s operation status, alarm histories and more. All this information is stored and processed in real time, enabling operators to improve their factory every day.

In addition to our IoT-solutions, we are also continuously developing and improving our ‘Intelligent Technology’ – a fusion of machine, control (CNC) and information technology. We have also recently launched a new CNC control that incorporates artificial intelligence. With our ‘OSP Suite’ at its core, we will continue to provide smart manufacturing technologies to optimise factory production.

Q - Which industries will you be focusing on in the future and how will Okuma products continue to meet their demands?

A - We are always looking to meet the requirements of customers from a wide range of industries. Currently, there is a lot of potential for growth in the aerospace industry, which makes it one of the most important industries for us. We believe that demand for 5-axis machining centres and multi-tasking machines will increase. Especially in this industry, we also predict a growing interest in super-multi-tasking machines, capable of additive manufacturing and heat treatment. The Laser EX machines I have mentioned earlier were designed as an answer to these requirements. For this particular industry we are also providing solutions that we have generated at our three Aerospace Centres of Excellence (ACE), located in Japan, the US and Europe. These facilities were designed as a proving and testing ground for aerospace manufacturers.

In the automotive industry, the ability to produce a wide variety of products in small quantities becomes more and more necessary. The difficulty here is to keep productivity at the same level as mass production. This is where machines like the aforementioned MU-S600V offer a real benefit, since they can form a production line for 5-axis machining without any need for conveying equipment, while responding flexibly to production changes.

Q - Given that more and more competitors are branching out and diversifying their product range, how does Okuma continue to stand out among them?

A - We pride ourselves on being the industry’s only single-source provider, which enables us to cater to our customers’ diversifying needs. Besides the machine tools, the controls, drives, software etc, we will continue to provide everything from proposals of new factory production systems to before- and after-sales service and know-how of smart factory construction. We always listen closely to our customers and their individual challenges, in order to support all aspects of manufacturing.

Q - Okuma is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. From the company’s humble beginnings as a manufacturer of noodle-making machines to the highly sophisticated machine tools found in today’s smart factories, what has been a consistent driver of innovation at Okuma throughout these years?

A - Our goal has always been to create what is not available. This philosophy has been at the heart of our company since the beginning and has resulted in the development of various products and technologies. For example, in 1963 we were the first to develop an NC control, because there was nothing of the sort available at the time and we saw it as a necessary step. Today, we are able to create solutions that only we can provide. This is because our strength lies in the fact that we develop and manufacture not only the machine, but also the control and software for it, adhering to a policy of total responsibility.

The spirit of ‘creating what is not available’ is also the idea behind our brand message ‘Open Possibilities’, which will continue to drive future innovations at Okuma.

First published in Machinery, September 2017