“A company is most valuable when it contributes to society beyond the simple pursuit of profits.”
Kazuma Tateisi, Founder, Omron
Science, technology, and society do not exist in isolation – they influence one another to change how we experience the world and live from generation to generation. Can one company improve lives and enrich societies all around the world? For us at Omron, we believe the answer is yes. That’s why we call on all our engineers to think, dream, and inspire when it comes to the science and technology of their work.
Think: Can machines see better than people?
When the last time you found a packet of food that was only half-full, or packaged differently from the others? Have you ever had to return it because of this? Incidents like these are very rare now, but not because humans are becoming more precise – it’s thanks to the work of machines that can “see” these errors and correct them, every single time.
Looking at products to see if they meet quality standards is a very laborious and repetitive task. Imagine staring at thousands of products every day looking for errors – you’d be bored out of your mind! Machines, however, can perform these tasks (called visual inspection in the industry) without getting tired or losing concentration, making product quality more consistent and cost-effective to maintain. That’s why visual inspection products like our FH Vision Controller have become the norm in factories worldwide.
“Omron realised that human operators can instantly spot flaws or mistakes just by looking at a product, so could a machine do that too?” says Innocentio Aloysius Loe, Application Engineer, PT Omron Electronics.”That led to the development of various visual inspection solutions that operate the same way people do -for example, looking at an object and comparing it to others at incredibly precise detail or inspecting the colour consistency – but at a scale and consistency far greater than human eyes can or should be doing.”
Omron’s controller can now read things like expiry dates, detect flaws underneath coats of lubricant or paint, and even count the number of items in different types of boxes. All these things go well beyond what you can spot with the naked eye, making product quality much more consistent while also giving human workers opportunities to pursue much more fulfilling lines of work (like designing the packages) that machines can’t do.
“As Indonesian manufacturing scales up in volume and complexity to compete with more mature Asian markets, businesses cannot rely solely on the human eye to make sure products are in top condition,” observes Innocentio. “Technologies like visual inspection will not just help these businesses, but also give Indonesia’s labour force a chance to go beyond repetitive tasks and enter more productive, fulfilling roles – further enriching communities and livelihoods all around the country.”
Dream: The right product, when and where you need it
We don’t just have higher-quality products, but more variety of them than ever before – and the list is growing. In Indonesia, for example, the number of cosmetic products on the shelves increased by 150% in a single year! As consumers, we desire products that are customised to our unique lifestyle and personal characteristics – but can manufacturers keep up with this demand?
“Manufacturers dream of being able to provide consumers with the right product at the very instant they want or need it,” says Christian Hadinata, Application Engineer, PT Omron Electronics. “We realised that the key is to maximise not only the production speed of factories, but how quickly they can reprogram their machinery and systems for new products. From there, the solution was obvious: instead of using a vast number of independent devices, connect them all to a single control system which we can reprogram at a moment’s notice.”
To achieve these manufacturers’ dreams, Omron developed Sysmac, a “machine automation platform” which connects all sorts of critical manufacturing devices to a single piece of software. This means manufacturers today can use just one device to change the operation of their entire factory to start making a new product, produce another product category, or even run simulations to see whether they can create that product efficiently or not.
“Many of Indonesia’s packaging manufacturers now use Sysmac or similar platforms, which allows them to offer to their consumers what they want much faster than competitors who don’t,” says Christian. “This is more important than ever before: Indonesia’s manufacturing sector has lost more than half its market share in the past two decades to other Asian countries. To avoid losing any further ground, Indonesian manufacturers need to realise their dreams of becoming more responsive to changing demand and more efficient in how they meet this demand.
“In the future, Indonesian consumers will be able to benefit from more customised and even personalised products as they become the norm, leading to an even richer and healthier experience in their everyday lives. More and more products might soon be tailored to the individual’s unique lifestyle and body type!”
Inspire: Safety’s shining light
More than 9.3 million tourists flocked to Indonesia in 2014, and that number is growing faster than ever before. Tourists also have to go through more and more safety checks: for fever and diseases, illegal substances, and of course metal detectors. But spare a thought for the engineers, drivers, and other ground staff who work at the airports – often alongside major hazards like jet fuel and heavy engine machinery!
Safety is not just an issue for airport ground staff. Many other major Indonesian industries, like manufacturing and mining, also require safety measures that can keep staff from harm in a wide range of environments. Issues like these led to Omron developing a device called a Safety Light Curtain – a sheet of light beams that, if broken by a hand or other human presence, will set off alarms or shut down dangerous machinery that it’s covering.
The safety light curtain is commonly used on automotive assembly lines, but can also function in almost any hazardous environment. It also has no moving parts that could otherwise create hazards (like static electricity or sparks) of their own, making it ideal for areas like airports where flammable substances are commonplace.
“On airport tarmacs and in manufacturing plants, engineers and workers must be constantly aware of which zones they can and can’t safely access: risks like electrocution and flammable gases are not always predictable or obvious to the naked eye. A light-based system can be automatically turned off and on depending on time or circumstance, and can also sound an alarm instantly if someone strays into a dangerous area – far faster than other manual systems like security cameras,” says Muhamad Alfi Yasien, Application Engineer, PT Omron Electronics.
“For rapidly growing industries like tourism, Indonesian companies have a greater responsibility to ensure the safety of their workers if they want to keep up with demand from society and gain a world-class reputation for quality. We truly hope that the safety light curtain will be an inspiration to businesses and industrial workers worldwide to treat safety not as another burden, but something important and even exciting to maintain.”
Can automation create happiness?