It was 2016 when Oracle and Mitsubishi Electric started their common journey towards the launch of disruptive Industry 4.0 solutions with the aim of changing existing business models and digitalize industrial processes. The idea was to invest in the future of Industry 4.0 by combining the IT expertise of Oracle – global leader in the design of database software and cloud engineered systems – with the OT skills of Mitsubishi Electric – one of the world’s main manufacturers of technology for factory automation.
The two companies recently introduced to the market a robot with integrated predictive maintenance features, an enhancement made possible thanks to the integration of artificial intelligence and the connection to the cloud built up by Oracle.
This was just the beginning of their exciting adventure. The challenge, now, is to identify a series of scalable and valuable use cases that will make the disruptive change envisaged and the transition towards Industry 4.0 possible for many industrial companies. IEN Europe interviewed Eric Prevost, Vice President Industry 4.0 and Advanced Technologies at Oracle, and Klaus Petersen, Marketing Director, Factory Automation EMEA, Mitsubishi Electric Europe B.V, to go into detail of this groundbreaking partnership.
IEN Europe: How has the partnership between Mitsubishi Electric and Oracle originated?
E. Prevost: Three years ago, Oracle decided to invest in Industry 4.0. We asked ourselves how we could change the business models that are currently leveraging the manufacturing industry to create a flexible and agile digital model that would be simple to adopt and validate in shop floors. I made a first screening of the most innovative potential partners and went to Japan to meet with the Head of Worldwide Factory Automation at Mitsubishi Electric. We decided to test the water to see the reaction of the market – at the time, a partnership between a digital solution provider and an industrial manufacturer was unusual. This was the first test and then we started to undertake bigger projects, including different technologies designed by Mitsubishi Electric – from Automation to Robotics. The purpose of the partnership was to create a link between the collection of data and the use of this data by different business divisions.
K. Petersen: Already in 2003, Mitsubishi Electric had established the e-F@ctory Alliance. It is an integral part of our e-F@ctory approach to the increasing digital transformation affecting business. The global network includes manufacturers of industrial components as well as specialised system integrators and software providers. It became obvious to us that the IT layer was gaining much more importance when the industry 4.0 initiative was launched. We immediately understood that if IT and OT are not talking to each other, there are no benefits for manufacturing companies. In order to take full advantage of digitalization, it’s fundamental to connect all the different departments – Logistics, Production, Accounting, Finance, Sales, Marketing, R&D. This way, they can have access to all the valuable information available. In the past, this process meant exchanging papers at meetings. The purpose of digitalization is to put all this information in a central data source so everyone can take full advantage of it. This is exactly where we saw that the collaboration with Oracle would be beneficial to the complete value chain.
IEN Europe: Which are the side effects of this operation?
E. Prevost: There are two side effects behind this centralized system. The first side effect is what we can call the ‘’human real-time’’, which is a neologism. We are looking at real-time on the automation side and, historically, decisions are not taken quickly in business processes. With this connection, we are not creating real-time decisions but a ‘’human real-time’’: humans make almost instant decisions about what’s happening in the real world. This was impossible in the past.
Being able to apply AI to data, this is the second side effect. The purpose of AI is to be predictive, by analyzing weak signals that couldn’t be analyzed in the past. Right now, we can identify weak signals and abnormal conditions, and we can use this information across business processes and technologies to identify correlations and be proactive in specific situations.
This creates a new definition of collaborative robots where robots are working on specific business processes in which we have humans making decisions. This is changing the way we do business today, as the robot can collaborate not only with people but also with processes.
IEN Europe: How are you deploying this collaboration concretely? What is your vision for the future?
K. Petersen: Imagine a factory that works on periodical maintenance. A factory where every week you do maintenance, no matter if there is a need for it. Imagine how many maintenance engineers are needed and how much time companies spend on it. How often is production down just because you are doing unnecessary maintenance? These are all costs absorbed by consumers or by the company itself. So, if companies go for a predictive maintenance model, in many cases the savings are huge in terms of uptime and manpower. This way, you can reduce your manufacturing cost. This is just one of many possible examples of how our technology can contribute to improving the competitive position of manufacturers.
E. Prevost: We are at the beginning of our collaboration. The next step is to find use cases and help different industries undertake and assimilate the digital transition, supporting them in the decision-making process without concerns. Changes in business and in the shop floor need to be digested first and it is pivotal to be well prepared to anticipate any potential side effect, For this reason, we need to collect and analyze data, learn from it and identify new use cases.
IEN Europe: What is your main challenge?
E. Prevost: The main challenge today is really identifying new use cases. Thanks to the technology that we have now, we know how to process a large diversity of data. Finding the valuable and scalable use cases for the company to change its business model in a sustainable way; helping them create a new stream to make the innovation possible – that’s our biggest challenge. Why do we think this is a good time? Because now there is a big market pressure from customers to reduce costs while improving product diversification.
Klaus Petersen: I can confirm that we feel this disruptive wave in our market as well. Today, a successful company needs to differentiate itself and provide added value by adopting and integrating new technologies to keep customers satisfied.
The partnership between Oracle and Mitsubishi Electric is very important because together we will be able to deliver completely new and disruptive solutions that can help keep a competitive advantage. We are just at the beginning of that journey.
IEN Europe: How much time will it take?
K. Petersen: Changing people’s mindset is hard: we have habits even in management processes. It surely takes time, but it is already happening now.
E. Prevost: It will take time until some disruption in the market comes and changes the game for everybody. At that point, everything will go very fast!