TECHNOLOGY

Source of the Alps Alpine Advantage

Automation and Production Process Design

Automation and Process Design for Stability and Consistency in Production

Production technology is the bedrock beneath all manufacturing businesses. It is the technology and expertise for putting in place systems and structures needed to actually make products that have been designed, essential for realizing high quality and stable supply. Alps Alpine has spent many years refining the technology it uses to manufacture parts and components. It includes automation, inspection and measurement, process design, molds and dies, and precision processing. And we adhere to that know-how and expertise, those systems, at production plants both in Japan and around the world. Here we introduce our activities in the area of production technology, or production engineering.

Advancements in Quality, Cost, Delivery and Original Know-how

Alps Alpine constantly pursues advancements in quality, cost and delivery (QCD) and original know-how in all facets of production engineering. Electronic components manufacturing is a big industry worldwide with many players, including burgeoning electronics manufacturing services (EMS). One difference contrasting us with our rivals is that we even design our own manufacturing equipment and tooling, allowing us to flexibly adapt to customer requirements and lift our overall QCD performance.

One specific way to maintain quality is automation of production processes. At Alps Alpine, we maximize our quality advantage by making our own equipment for mass production of mechatronic components like switches and potentiometers and by eliminating variance through use of automatic machinery and robots as well as monitoring of high-sensitivity parameters on the lookout for abnormalities. Here, we do not hold back in application of advanced technical capabilities built up through the pursuit of greater versatility, including internal manufacturing expertise in areas such as facility design, control programs and image processing.
Also, by improving equipment effectiveness and having all departments work together to determine the best methods, we get to achieve both good quality and balanced costs. We deploy robots worldwide, manufacturing them internally within competitive domains and making effective use of commercially available robots in cooperative domains. For key processes, we look to enhance competitiveness by incorporating original expertise while also shortening equipment development and production preparation lead time.

Automation Technology Accumulated as Original Expertise

Alps Alpine has a wealth of experience and know-how relating to automation technology that can be used to heighten product quality and improve production efficiency. We started developing our own automatic machinery early on and constantly upgrade to incorporate technologies and trends of the moment. Ever since the company’s founding, we have adhered to a stance of manufacturing our own equipment. It is one of our strengths.
One current area of focus is the development and deployment to mass production of general-purpose automatic equipment. Standardized, general-purpose equipment helps set up for production that little bit quicker and it lowers equipment costs. A larger unchanged portion for shared use leads to greater efficiency and productivity. Recently, we have embarked on a full exploration of the robotics field, including multi-joint robots, which are being deployed in more and more processes, and robots that perform tasks at high speed.
Alps Alpine also develops inspection and measurement control technology, which is vital for quality improvements. Progress is being made on establishing smart factories that incorporate image processing, automated product appearance inspection systems, data analysis and traceability systems, as well as artificial intelligence (AI), or deep learning, and IoT-based technology.

The Essence of the Unit Concept and General-Purpose Automatic Machinery

The biggest advantage of Alps Alpine’s automation expertise lies in the concept of combining units to allow quick setting up of manufacturing lines in order to cope with a wide range of product varieties. Automated lines consist of a main line, conveyors, feeders, tools and other elements and by selecting the most suitable combination of units for each product, incorporating both specially developed parts and standard parts, we can construct lines capable of producing a wide variety of items. This is the essence of our “Unit Concept” and customers with experience of many different production processes have expressed admiration for the extremely advanced approach.
The Unit Concept is based around general-purpose automatic machinery. This minimizes the amount of new dedicated equipment development needed when starting production of a new product, shortening lead time and helping to keep down overall costs. Continual use of the same equipment improves product quality and generates excellent benefits in terms of each of quality, cost and delivery. Also, once production of one group of products is completed, only the special-purpose equipment needs to be removed, while most of the remaining, standard equipment can stay in place for continued use. This leads to enormous direct and indirect advantages, such as when introducing lines to overseas plants by facilitating provision of task guidance and helping to improve the proficiency and maintenance skills of local personnel.

Implementing Process Design from the Product Design Stage

Process design is about devising the specifics of the manufacturing process. It is an important step that involves planning and designing the production line and the direction taken has a big effect on the condition of the eventual product, on costs and on production efficiency. Process design for production lines varies greatly depending on the scale of the operation. Mass-produced items require thoroughly advanced levels of automation and efficiency. Conversely, low-volume production demands optimization of worker placement and manufacturing flows. In addition, the optimal processes are configured to match the complexity of the product structure and the required scope of traceability.
One key expression characterizing process design at Alps Alpine is “front-loading.” Measures include having engineers from process units take part in product development right from the initial stages before specifications for the part or component have been finalized. Their expert input on process technology assists changes to product structure that allow for quicker, more stable production. The result is that all relevant in-house units coordinate closely from an early stage to heighten quality and productivity and satisfy customer requirements.
Additionally, Alps Alpine realizes a typically high level of general-purpose standardization that is implemented alongside automation engineering teams. For example, effort is put into cost design – ensuring good quality for the product to remain sustainable – and optimization of inspection specifications – for assurance about performance of functions. Process design brings out our strengths, giving us an edge over our rivals.

Original Human Resources Development Programs

Besides technology and equipment, Alps Alpine also directs effort into the development of human resources who support production activity. Ours is a well-structured training framework. We create original texts with extensive mention of specific case examples, including coverage of not only existing process design and job design theory, but also original know-how and Alps Alpine philosophy. And in addition to the Monozukuri Master Training Center, which teaches about molds and dies as well as Total Industrial Engineering (TIE), we have also launched programs looking to nurture process design, automation and mechatronics engineers.
The framework is split into three areas: training for new/junior employees, training for mid-level employees around five years into their career, and training of production engineering professionals around 10 years into their career. New/junior employee training provides a good grounding, teaching the basics. Mid-level training helps cultivate skills through on-the-job application to actual duties. The program for developing professionals involves advanced training to nurture production engineering experts, even covering topics like cost planning.

Production Engineering and the Alps Alpine Advantage

Automation and process engineering expertise painstakingly refined over the years and human resources development pursued through original programs exemplify Alps Alpine’s approach to manufacturing and product creation. It is an approach giving us strengths that no EMS or other competitor possesses and is what drives us to expand value in the market.
Production engineering initiatives characteristic of Alps Alpine – including general-purpose standardization, which is beneficial in many ways, the original and creative Unit Concept, and front-loading by units coming together to work as a team – will be explored and built on further. And we remain committed to ensuring we have strong systems in place for manufacturing and product creation at all production plants both in Japan and overseas to be able to meet the needs of customers around the world.