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Mitsubishi’s Development Team Discusses Their New iQ Platform

11 August 2008

Six engineering leaders involved in the development process at Mitsubishi’s Factory Automation headquarters in Nagoya, Japan met together recently to discuss how their new creation came into existence.

Mitsubishi staff
Mitsubishi staff

The products under development and the engineering culture may differ, but engineers are engineers. They have the same attitude toward creating a product. This is a discussion about the development story for Mitsubishi’s iQ Platform and its corresponding products.

The discussion presented here was held by all the leaders involved in the process. As is evident, there was a lot of passion and many battles were waged behind the scenes to create the iQ Platform.

The entire process began with customers expressing their desires. It was these customer statements that boosted along iQ Platform development.

Mitsubishi staff photo, from left to right—Tomoyuki Kobayashi (Robots); Makoto Nishimura (Drive Systems); Kumio Saito (Group Manager); Hikaru Kaneko (CNC Systems); Hiroyuki Shimizu (HMI Development); and Hideaki Morita (Engineering Manager) To view individual photographs of the panel members and read about their backgrounds, click here.


HIDEAKI MORITA -- (Engineering Manager)
OK, I’ll light the fuse for this discussion (laughter)… Initially I was really pessimistic about this iQ Platform
concept. The people involved back at the beginning still won’t let me live that down (laughter). Well, Nagoya Works products are each strong, at first or second place in market share in the industry, so maybe that’s actually why they interconnect so well. Back then, I was working on the next generation concept for strengthening sequencers, and frankly wanted to work freely without any restrictions from anything around me. I was unsure about setting up a system capable of moving such a huge concept like the iQ platform forward while I was proceeding with other developments alongside.

MAKOTO NISHIMURA – (Drive Systems)
Motion has always been fairly compatible with sequencers, so my concept included developing and unifying these. But I thought it would be tough to put NC and robots onto the same bus (laughter).

HIKARU KANEKO – (CNC Systems)
I alternated between wanting to see it happen, and realising how hard it would be in many ways. NC had already been connected via bus technology to sequencers, but this was the first time working on a development with everyone, including Design people.

TOMOYUKI KOBAYASHI – (Robots)
I was unsure about getting the specifications together. But from the standpoint of the user, unification made perfect sense. Our customers had asked us “You make the (the products) at the same Works, so why are they all separate?” My other goal was actually to increase familiarity with sequencers so I could “talk up” robots to our customers (laughter).

HIROYUKI SHIMIZU -- (HMI Development)
Our HMI is a separate component from the controllers, so at first I was just watching how this all would go. But once the specs were in place, then our HMI would be the face of the four controllers, so I really got serious then.

KUMIO SAITO – (Group Manager)
Full optimisation actually probably means that our FA products were not necessarily satisfying our customers. You’d better ask Mr. Kaneko about that one.

HIKARU KANEKO -- (CNC Systems)
About three years ago, a certain customer said “Instead of just NC, couldn’t one controller handle the sequencer, motion, and robot too? Wouldn’t Mitsubishi have what it takes to do that?” That request was the starting point. We initially did this only with NC, but they (the customer) said no, they’re expecting more from Mitsubishi Electric as a whole…

Once the cultural barrier came down, the road to full optimisation became clear.

MAKOTO NISHIMURA – (Drive Systems)
Except that, at first, our discussions just weren’t tracking at all.

KUMIO SAITO – (Group Manager)
Each of us approached products differently and had different functions in mind. I guess we were coming from different cultures. At meetings, even if I spoke up, thinking I was right, everyone listening would each
interpret what I said differently. So, we first started with understanding each other’s products.

HIKARU KANEKO – (CNC Systems)
As the NC division, I wasn’t sure we could get our requests heard when it would involve changing sequencer specifications (laughter). We were definitely constraining each other.

HIDEAKI MORITA -- (Engineering Manager)
And it didn’t make sense to keep talking forever about what we “will do” and “will not do”, so we set aside whether it was actually possible, and decided to look into the specifications of what we would want to make.
We forced the sharpest engineers from each department to come together, and concentrated on that for about a month, didn’t we? But they surprised us. The engineers involved were having a great time, their eyes sparkling while they said “let’s make a high-speed bus”, or “an ASIC like this would be cool”. That shocked us into realising something. “We’ve actually never given them a place to discuss their dreams like this.” Engineers actually enjoy getting together and talking about their dreams. That’s the starting point. Somewhere in that process, our cultural differences gradually melted away. I’m sure we put Mr. Saito through a lot, though, as the leader of us all.

KUMIO SAITO – (Group Manager)
At first, everyone had strong assumptions, and cultural differences on top of that, resulted in meetings that just wouldn’t get anywhere. There were times when we’d have individual discussions after the meeting to put the specs together. There was a crisis point when I wondered if we could really do this, but even though we were aggressive and blunt, as the general product image and specifications started to take shape, the members gradually started cooperating, and the ASIC was completed, then the trial equipment was done, and we were all on board and ready.

Interconnection beyond the organisation resulted in development of a revolutionary ASIC and high speed bus.

HIKARU KANEKO – (CNC Systems)
The ASIC was actually pretty difficult. This time we developed four ASIC’s at once, and everyone had their own functions they wanted to include, so we were excited when it was finally completed with the help of the research lab.

KUMIO SAITO
This was our first time to develop such a large-scale ASIC. And we did four at once!

MAKOTO NISHIMURA
Absolutely. It was successful sharing of resources, with the NC Division handling the common ASIC. The performance was actually good. Our concept was 1.5 times the conventional performance, but it more than doubled on the first try. That specialised ASIC was extremely effective.

KUMIO SAITO – (Group Manager)
In the sense of results from interconnection between organisations, the high-speed bus was a major achievement too.

MAKOTO NISHIMURA – (Drive Systems)
Our customers were asking “Can’t you make the cycle time faster?” We had created the Q bus using a sequencer concept until then, and this time, we developed a high speed bus starting from the motion concept, and we increased the speed eightfold. But we struggled with environmental countermeasures because of heat generation and such.

HIDEAKI MORITA -- (Engineering Manager)
We had size restrictions this time. We wanted to keep heat generation down system-wide, while increasing the performance of each part… balancing that was tough. And we’d all let our bad habits slip out, like “that’s not a problem with ‘our’ ASIC, so…” (laughter).

MAKOTO NISHIMURA – (Drive Systems)
Raising performance within a small size will cause the problem of heat generation. On top of that, we wanted to build in lots of other functions. For example, attaching a connector meant increasing heat generation because air flow would be restricted, but Mr. Kaneko’s position, well… (laughter)

HIKARU KANEKO – (CNC Systems)
Making one all-in-one unit was the bedrock of NC culture. Sequencer and motion people had a culture that put additional functions as separate units, and I forced the issue and made them put a whole lot of connectors on it (laughter).

HIROYUKI SHIMIZU -- (HMI Development)
But with the hardware getting this fast, and into one unit, we anticipated being able to expand into functions we’ve never had before. The sequencer controls the whole thing, but when you look across one production line, it’s likely that NC and robots are both there, and that’s where I thought the HMI will be effective in being the common face for both. Customers will start seeing the HMI as a unifying controller to allow design and development with common operability without requiring lots of extra studying, but still increasing maintenance efficiency. For example, there is a new GOT function that was developed together with software using NC Division know-how.

After many meetings, the concept evolved and was finally reduced to specifications. The difficulties involved are evident from any of these handwritten documents.

KUMIO SAITO – (Group Manager)
Over at Mr. Kobayashi’s side, you had trouble with safety measures for the robots.

TOMOYUKI KOBAYASHI – (Robots)
Yes. The hardest part was safety. We had to put the new safety standard functions into such a small size. That was a tough spot, and we asked Mr. Saito’s advice, and managed to meet the standards by creating a robot safety board. Speaking of performance, a robot moves a certain amount when a machine called a manipulator is used to move it, so I didn’t think performance itself would increase with this controller. After all, we hadn’t improved the machine itself. But when we evaluated it based on actual line operation, productivity improved a by 15%. This was because the data exchange between the new CPU and the sequencer increased in speed, and this was absolutely astounding.

This feeling and passion will be passed on as a common resource within Nagoya Works.

HIDEAKI MORITA -- (Engineering Manager)
This project really taught us a lot. Even if we’re busy, if we look at another department or another model, we’ll get a new concept. Or, sometimes what we thought was an extremely difficult technical hurdle had already been resolved in another department. To satisfy our customers, we must expand our vision to include the entire system, and optimise the performance and usability. We need concepts from multiple viewpoints. That’s what I’ve learned. This feeling, this passion can’t just end here with this development. It must become a common resource for Nagoya Works. No, it must be passed on as our culture…

KUMIO SAITO – (Group Manager)
The accomplishment here is this: Something that was an impossibly high hurdle for a single division to fulfill got accomplished with increased performance by interconnection of engineers from various divisions and the research lab. It wasn’t just interconnecting parts. Interconnecting the engineers was a major accomplishment. And from the standpoint of full optimisation of a single production line, we have developed CC-Link/IE with a 1Gbps/sec communication speed as the vital controller network. We want to continue responding to our customer’s requests, by full optimisation in conjunction with the engineering environment which is under development.


To view photographs of the individual panel members and read about their backgrounds, CLICK HERE.

The September 2008 issue of Control Engineering Europe, has an article beginning on page 8, “Mitsubishi puts four controllers on a single platform.” The story discusses Mitsubishi Electric’s new iQ platform, which combines four different controller types—the PLC (programmable controller), CNC (computer numerical control, used for automated machine tools), motion control, and robot control. To view this news story online, CLICK HERE.

For readers who want more specialised in-depth information about the iQ Platform from an engineer’s perspective, CE-E has put together this section that describes the positioning of the iQ Platform, its technical overview, and the specifications and characteristics of the compatible products. To go to the technical article CLICK HERE


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