Mitsubishi Electric

Chris Hazlewood
About: Chris Hazlewood - Deputy General Manager, Factory Automation Overseas Planning and Administration

As an accomplished international manager, Chris’ passion for automation is unwavering. His experience as a user, manufacturer, and sales/marketer of automation equipment means he has a solid 360 view that helps him to contextualize complex ideas in a relevant way for the target audience. Starting life as a mechanical engineer designing high torque gearboxes he then entered system integration before joining Mitsubishi Electric in a variety of roles from support to marketing from bases in the UK, Germany, and Japan where he now has global responsibility for marketing communication. Chris lives his company’s slogan of ‘Changes for the better’.

1. How is Mitsubishi Electric empowering smart manufacturing and what, in your opinion, are the various challenges and opportunities that Mitsubishi sees?

In our opinion smart manufacturing is not solved by one single thing or action, for example, simply digitizing everything doesn’t make it smart. We believe that the core of Smart manufacturing is Machine Automation and Digital Engineering but not to be forgotten, most importantly, Human Knowledge. After all, who knows the processes better than the people that do them? So our approach to Digital manufacturing is rather a practical-collaborative one, we call it e-F@ctory. It is a Kaizen based approach designed to create continuous improvement in small incremental steps, especially where ROI can quickly be established as the question of ROI is the one that holds most companies back from embracing Digital manufacturing. So for sure we are offering our customers a wide range of “smart” automation products from robots to LV Switchgear, to automate their machines but we are also offering a framework so they can easily start and develop their smart manufacturing based on their needs and budgets – this e-F@ctory initiative is called SMKL, or Smart Manufacturing Kaizen Level. Finally, Mitsubishi Electric is also offering to share its knowledge and experience of manufacturing with customers in collaboration as we work together.

2. Could you please illustrate this a little, perhaps using Mitsubishi Electric's Variable Frequency Drives (VFD) as an example?

Frequency inverters have been around for some time and are an important contributor to managing motor operations and efficiency. It is well known that they are a great way to save energy and Mitsubishi Electric has many patents for optimal inverter control concepts. But you know, they are a lot smarter than many people realize. Take our latest FR-E800 series, this is an example of making a SMART product that is ready to support customers implementing their Smart Factories, for example, one aspect of being smart is being able to communicate and share your data – these inverters have multiple communication options including TSN, which as you know is the next level of Ethernet-based networking. Furthermore, when the FR-E800s companion drive software is used, AI-driven predictive maintenance is simply a click away. But for truly smart devices perhaps the best illustration is the use of onboard diagnostics, let me give two examples, most inverters have fans to keep them cool but few manufacturers monitor the performance of the fan-like Mitsubishi Electric. We do that to determine if it is wearing or becoming blocked, but such a simple feature will save you having to regularly manually check. A second feature, which is a world’s first, is the FR-E800 inverters have a dedicated sensor array (we even designed the sensors which are millimeters in size) actually on the circuit boards to monitor atmospheric pollution.  So in heavily polluted atmospheres, as you might find at water treatment works or potentially chemical works, where there may be a risk of noxious gasses, over time those gasses could corrode the parts on the circuit boards eventually causing failure. The traditional solution was to cover the board in a protective varnish or sealant but that is an imprecise process due to the difficulty to apply the coating evenly so the quality can vary and maybe you still have to perform regular inspection….now your FR-E800 can give you a warning automatically when it is close to failing due to excessive atmospheric corrosion – that’s smart!

3. The development of a collaborative robot called MELFA ASSISTA has been recently announced. Kindly give our readers a short outline highlighting its applications and what we can expect in the future?

This is a very exciting product which is proving to be exceptionally popular even in such a short time after its launch. As you know Robots, in general, are almost an icon of the 4th industrial revolution but still many people see them as a “job killer”. Our experience is quite the opposite we have seen that mixing human and robot skills improve production and generate more employment opportunities. The ASSISTA series of robots is one more step towards closer human-robot collaboration as they can work side by side with no additional safety considerations. What’s more is because ASSISTA benefits from all our Industrial robot experience, making it durable, flexible, and accurate; key things in any positioning process which requires high levels of repetition. As for the trends and outlook, for our Industrial robots, we have just implemented embedded AI for several operation functions including predictive maintenance. Furthermore, for our Industrial Robots, we have made great steps in utilizing AI to reduce the set-up, training (Robot speak for programming), and real time adaption to changing environments and circumstances. And finally, our collaboration with Realtime Robotics is helping to deliver AI-powered real-time adaptive path correction, so reducing the need for extensive safety systems by getting the robot to move around objects or people in real-time without additional programming. So, the future of robots is not only exciting but is going to support the human operators more strongly by working ever closer together and taking on the loads and repetitive strains normally experienced by the worker.

4. The Japan House in São Paulo has recently been granted a high accolade by LEED. and this accomplishment features the manageable design expertise of Mitsubishi Electric. What is Mitsubishi Electric’s opinion about this commitment and your role in it?

Naturally, we are delighted to have been part of this project and are very much honored that such an auspicious organization such as LEED has decided to recognize it as being a great example of a “green building” initiative. We can only say that there were a lot of people involved in this project who were all united under the single purpose to share the spirit and culture of Japan with the citizens of Sao Paulo while being sensitive to the building’s environmental impact. From a purely selfish point of view I am particularly thrilled that our FA products were able to make such a strong contribution; from the overall management “MCWorks 64” SCADA system to the PLCs, HMIs, inverters, Low voltage switchgear, and eco monitor energy measuring units that make up a substantial part of the total building control and management systems. Overall, I think it is a great example of combining human ingenuity, technology, and high ideals for the benefit of society.

5. Are there any specific set of rules or an approach framework that you follow to understand the client's requirement, how would you fix their issues?  Kindly give our readers a brief on the same

Many customers have a clear idea of what they want to achieve and roughly how they expect that to be executed, while others are more open to exploring different ideas and solutions, however, regardless of the customer type the most important thing is to listen to what they want. We often find ourselves helping customers define what their real goal is. The adoption of IoT/Digital manufacturing is a good example. We try to remind people that implementing IoT or Digital manufacturing is not or should not be the primary goal. When we discuss in-depth we often discover that the customer who wants an IoT solution wants to reduce the line downtime or to improve the yield rate of the production sequence. For sure Clouds, AI and Robots may all play a part in that solution, but the goal needs to be clear and understood by all involved otherwise it will never be achieved and then there will be disappointment and recriminations within the customer’s organization. So our approach is both collaborative and pragmatic – because we have learned in our manufacturing facilities that this is the approach that achieves the goal quickest and generates the best ROI. I think we also surprise some customers by proposing other vendors’solutions, but we know what our core competencies are and if the task falls outside of that we are more than willing to pull in the expertise of a partner company. For us, we take our role as “trusted advisor” seriously, because too many people that is who we are.

6. In what ways do Mitsubishi Electric India (MEI) speak to a one-stop solution for home products, factory automation systems, transportation systems, visual information systems, and so forth? It would be ideal if you expand.

For sure Mitsubishi Electric has a diverse product portfolio, and our local subsidiaries such as MEI have often had a selected subset of that. As many of the products are hidden in the background of life it is quite common for people to have experienced them without realizing it, and India is no exception as it offers a comprehensive portfolio. Let me try to illustrate that. Let’s imagine a day in the life of a citizen living in Gurgaon. They wake up in their home and perhaps adjust their Mitsubishi Electric air conditioner. After breakfast, they go to the metro station and check the Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Vision public display boards to see when the next train departs. They board the train and are whisked away by Mitsubishi Electric’s traction motors and yet all the time the condition and status of the rolling stock are being fed back to the central management facility courtesy of Mitsubishi Electric’s Train Control and Management System where it is displayed on huge Mitsubishi Electric LCDs spanning meters in length to show large sections of the rail infrastructure. Our worker arrives at the office and enters a refreshingly cool building which is highly energy-efficient due to Mitsubishi Electric air conditioners but also because power distribution and consumption are managed by Mitsubishi Electric’s Low Voltage switchgear and Energy management devices. Their first task in the office is to print off some hi-res photos for their publicity department using Mitsubishi Electric’s high-quality photo printers. Next a quick stop in the cloakroom to wash their hands. The freshwater has been brought to them using Mitsubishi Electric’s Factory Automation products, such as programmable controllers (PLCs), inverters, and HMIs (displays). Now it’s time to dry their hands with Mitsubishi Electric’s “Jet Towel”.

Our imaginary worker returns to their desk and switches on the radio, which has Semiconductors from Mitsubishi Electric, even the high-frequency communications from the satellite tracking the reported weather are also from Mitsubishi Electric. As the day goes on until they return home, step by step they are using more and more products that have been supplied by Mitsubishi Electric India. And that is just a fraction of what is available, but hopefully, it illustrates what I was saying about Mitsubishi Electric being behind many things we all take for granted in daily life.

7. Would you like to share your bits of knowledge on MEI's worldwide specialty units?

We have been lucky enough to be able to grow as India has grown in all areas of everyday life. Our team based in India has already expanded past pure sales and support to include manufacturing and R&D functions to create both locally needed products and solutions as well as contributing to global product developments. And we see the local talent pool in India is very rich. So while we have naturally had Japanese ex-pat managers and engineers working in India, we have also brought members of our Indian team to our factories and head office to develop their skills before returning to become tomorrow’s generation of “change-makers”. This means we see India as a core contributor to our global business. Our FA team has also been actively nurturing the next generation of engineers through their annual education competition. Supporting, challenging, and growing the students of today to be the leaders of tomorrow.

8. The industry is a competitive one. As you would see it, what makes Mitsubishi Electric Automation stand apart from different contenders?

That’s the 64,000 dollar question. It’s true to say we are in a very competitive industry, and some competitors have developed excellent products and solutions – we take our hat off to them. However, what we do think makes us different is our approach to work with our customers in a collaboration of equals regardless of the size of the customer. Some of our “stand apart” qualities are often things you need to experience directly, for example, product quality. Everyone will say they have great product quality, it’s easy to say but how do you prove it? For Mitsubishi Electric, quality is the company’s mantra, whether it is the design quality, production quality, or the quality of our service and support. Earlier you asked about what makes our inverters different, for one thing, every single inverter goes through ‘00’s of tests at each stage of production so that every product leaving the production line is as close to perfect as possible – our failure rate is less than 100 parts per million (ppm). When we design the inverter, we know it will often be deployed in extreme conditions, in the design phase our high-temperature test ensures the inverter keeps working even as the casing around it deforms under the heat. That’s what we mean by quality – products that meet and exceed customer expectation, are easy to use and perform their functions over a long working life.

If you talk with our customers about what they like about Mitsubishi Electric’s FA Products often the comment comes back “the backward compatibility”. It is a design priority that we can migrate customers from an older product variation to a newer one smoothly. Imagine being able to remove the wired terminal blocks of your E700 inverter and fit them directly to the body frame of the new E800 inverter without having to rewire anything. Or perhaps you want to upgrade your 20-year-old Modular A series PLC to have a new iQR CPU….without rewiring or throwing away the existing I/O and special function cards or having to rewire them….with Mitsubishi Electric you can do just that – it reduces your Total Cost of Ownership considerable and is a great testament to the quality I mentioned earlier. Finally, and most importantly is the product performance. Our target is to design the best performance to size to cost ratio products on the market, whether it is the dedicated high precision encoders on MR-J5 servo motors, the new corrosion sensors on the FR-E800 inverter, or the processing performance of the MELIPC Edge computers, we strive for the best but are never satisfied with it and so continuously seek to strengthen the product designs further.

9. There's an extremely high client care standard at Mitsubishi Electric Automation. Could you summarize the essence of client assistance followed by MEI in three words?

Can I use four words? I would say “Global Partner. Local Friend”. As you may know, many of our customers are small and medium-sized companies, and as such, they often get overlooked as being the backbone of the Industry, but they deserve the same level of focus and support as some of our larger customers. For those smaller customers who are often struggling with balancing the demands of their customers, developing new products, and trying to keep ahead, we aim to be their “Local Friend”. Providing advice and support to help them navigate their way through the challenges of automation and come out with a result which is as close to or better than they had initially conceived. It means being there, listening to their needs, advising based on their budget constraints. For the bigger customers they have similar problems especially when they are exporting or are part of a global business and in this case, we also see ourselves as their “Global Partner” offering that local element but with the knowledge that when we work together, our global presence means spare parts, support and the same quality of advice are available to them throughout the world. It is as exciting for us to work with innovative start-ups as it is to support respected institutions – we want all our customers to succeed in their endeavors regardless of whether they use our products or not.

10. So far in MEI's journey and your association with it, what are the greatest business challenges that MEI has to face and how do you think MEI could sail through these challenges comfortably and remain competitive?

Since the establishment of our subsidiary, Mitsubishi Electric India, in 2010 it has continuously strengthened both its businesses and commitment to India day after day. Currently, the local team is focused on “Partnering India’s dream to become No.1.” and that involves both our products, technologies, experience, and responsibility to be an active member of society there.

This is both a challenge and the motivation to confront new challenges! To make a positive contribution to the society where we operate and to maintain our undertaking to be a leading green, a global technology company. For all of us India has proved to be a vibrant, dynamic, and progressive market – so much is happening. It has a freshness, energy about it that is quite intoxicating, but it means that sadly sometimes we have to moderate the enthusiasm of our local staff to ensure that we grow at a pace that is sustainable with our company and goals.

11. The world of manufacturing has changed fundamentally post the Coronavirus flare-up. The situation being what it is, what sort of momentary activities do organizations need to take to guarantee business progression, and secure workers?

In some way, everything has become a new challenge; from maintenance to worker protection. Social distancing is a great example because plants and lines are basically “fixed” to a process and have certain demands and need to make that process function. So how do you maintain this and yet keep the utmost protection in place for your staff? For sure PPE is important but in some environments, it’s difficult to manage due to the environmental conditions – for example, extremes of heat like you find in a steelworks or cold like you find in an industrial freezer will cause problems with PPE. So manufacturers are actively looking at alternative ideas such as “shift” balancing to stagger working times and reduce the number of staff present at any one time. Other actions include adding protective screens to physically separate people, just like we see in many of the shops and service counter areas now. But that may not work for everyone if it restricts access to vital control functions. Other activities that have seen an increase in interest are the use of collaborative robots, like ASSISTA, in conjunction with shift balancing to support workers. So there is a balance to be found to protect the workers, ensure the essential task of manufacturing continues and that the solution can be rapidly implemented and scaled. As I hinted at first, the same is true of maintenance – keeping systems running when you cannot “visit” is a real headache. Therefore, implementing remote connectivity solutions, preventative maintenances schemes and yes using smarter components to give those vital early signs that something is not as it should be are all part of the solution. In short “living with COVID” has made us all think seriously again about our most valuable assets, our staff, and the focus of the automation that we have been applying to date.

12. Plant Automation Technology is a connecting point for buyers and suppliers across the global automation industry. What do you think about such a website which promotes & brands automation today on such a wide scale?

The internet is a really powerful tool for finding information but….. I know this sounds crazy… in some way you need to know what you are looking for first, so you can enter that as parameters for the search engines to find the information you want! Yet in engineering and especially automation, everyday there are so many innovations and ways of doing things that we are not aware of – if we do not know about them how can we search for them? And it’s fair to say this trend of new developments is speeding up, so having “expert” environments provide a focal point where all related information can be easily found is essential. And Plant Automation Technology is one such service that delivers such an environment.