Komatsu revs up smart manufacturing with Microsoft Azure

Komatsu is using Azure cloud and the specialists at Microsoft to gather and handle data and boost its manufacturing capabilities and productivity. 

Nobuyoshi Yamanaka, GM for Komatsu’s Manufacturing Engineering Development Centre Production Division, said that with the right data and the right insights, decision makers can visualise situations.

“Microsoft asked us what we wanted to do and how we wanted to expand the solution in the future, then it gave us exactly the right support,” said Yamanaka, whose team is now studying how artificial intelligence (AI) and Intelligent Edge solutions might further boost efficiencies.

In 2014, Komatsu launched “KOM-MICS” – an Internet of Things (IoT) system that collects data from sensors that are installed on a myriad of machine tools and welding robots.

“Komatsu uses a high-mix/low-volume manufacturing system. Plant equipment is not always operating at full capacity as machines may be down for many hours due to setup changes, and so on,” Yamanaka said.

“Visualising this situation and reducing machine downtime increases manufacturing output without extra equipment or personnel,” he added. “Our ultimate goal is to double productivity while reducing equipment and personnel.”

Komatsu compared several cloud services and moved its data onto Azure in early 2017. A primary reason behind the choice was trust — Azure has extensive security measures backed by Microsoft’s expertise. Azure also made Komatsu’s data capabilities immediately compliant with GDPR –- the European Union’s new globally important data protection measure.

Komatsu connected its Thai and Indonesian bases to KOM-MICS in 2017. Since then, the number of Komatsu’s partners connected to KOM-MICS has been increasing rapidly.

“The transition to Azure instantly expanded the potential scope of the KOM-MICS rollout,” Yamanaka said. “The meticulous support of Microsoft enabled us to complete the migration in a short time.”

With earthquakes and typhoons a constant threat in Japan, Azure has also bolstered Komatsu’s disaster response capabilities compared with the previous on-premises system.

Looking ahead, Yamanaka believes AI on the Intelligent Edge can potentially deliver more productivity dividends, such as freeing up the time of skilled workers and opening the door to predictive maintenance.