Digital Factory Visualization System from Panasonic: Mixed Feelings

Posted on 29 Jan 2009 by The Manufacturer

Jon Miller casts a lean eye over Pansonic's award winning Digital Factory Visualization System...

img creds: Gemba Panta Rei

Panasonic has introduced an award-winning digital factory visualization system. This system allows you to set up a camera in a factory and monitor the performance and movements of the 4M (manpower, material, machinery, method) with the purpose of improving safety, quality, cost and on-time delivery. Managers and engineers can now perform process analysis of the factory from the comfort of their offices, instantly being alerted to andon lamps, excessive motion, unsafe activities, with even a 30X zoom to look at the motion of the workers’ very fingertips. I have mixed feelings about this…

pansonic qcd

These sample videos are really fun if you enjoy factories. Follow the link to the Panasonic website (but do come back!) and click on any of the links within the red square area and watch videos of people at work within a Panasonic factory. As an engineer I could see getting really hooked on this system and dreaming up all sorts of new permutations of lean manufacturing. I wonder if they mics on the engineers desks have loud speakers in the factory, of if the workers are given walkie talkies so that the engineers can talk to them from afar.

pansonic sample video

A new feature Panasonic advertises for this system is the motion analysis software. This software watches people or materials and traces their lines of motion, capturing them as JPEGs or as video files. Ghost lights of neon blue, green and red trace the motion of where people have been, in the image below, drawing a digital spaghetti chart. Click on the image below to watch a sample video with the motion line tracing feature.

dousen demo panasonic

Even as a non-degreed industrial engineer who feels comfortable with stop watch in hand staring at people for hours, this motion analysis system gives me the willies. As with any tool, it’s how one uses it I suppose. There are clear benefits to this system, explained below, regardless of how one may feel about remote monitoring and video taping of workers in a factory for the purpose of productivity improvement. Quality improves as the root causes of errors can be found by repeated observation of the points of cause captured in the video. Equipment failures and risks are reduced. Less domestic travel is needed to your manufacturing centers.

panasonc benefits

But perhaps the killer app is the ability for this system to work over the internet so you can watch what they are doing in your low cost country factories without actually having to travel there, reducing travel cost, lost time, jet lag and misadventures with black cabs. And of course nothing says “I care” like an e-mail from an engineer at a mother factory 8 time zones away instructing you to move your workstation 2 meters to the left in order shorten your cycle by 3 seconds.

Panasonic sees China

It’s in Japanese but here is a link to a PDF brochure of the digital factory visualization system outlining the specifications and such. If you want to contact Panasonic to learn more about this product, I recommend you call them up at their numbers in red (toll free in Japan) and speak English to them until they hang up or find an English speaker willing to deal with you. They have not made it easy to simply send them an e-mail. The e-mail contact button is broken in the Firefox browser. With Internet Explorer it goes to a page full of terms of use to which you have to agree before they will let you send them an e-mail… Fail.

Contact Panasonic

Panasonic gets kudos for being a fairly lean manufacturer, based on evidence in the videos they show on this website. They have also built a software product that “kaizens the kaizen” if you will, finding a better tool for improvement. But this digital factory visualization system threatens to take the human contact out of the process of studying the work that is done with the goal of finding ways to improve it. At the same time it’s a fantastic technical solution and time saver in many ways, allowing you to better improve safety, quality, delivery and cost. What do you think? Is this a move in the right direction, the wrong direction or neither?

By Jon Miller of Gemba Panta Rei blog and Gemba Research.

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