K.S. Chong of Yamazaki Mazak Singapore Pte Ltd speaks about the impact of automation in the metalworking equipment industry. Article by Stephen Las Marias.
K.S. Chong, Senior Director, Solution Engineering, Southeast Asia Headquarters, at Yamazaki Mazak Singapore Pte Ltd, speaks with Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News during the recent Industrial Transformation ASIA-PACIFIC 2019 event in Singapore, about the latest trends in the machine tool industry, and how automation can help solve bottlenecks and issues on the shop floor.
Give us a brief background on your company, and your role.
K.S. Chong (KS): Yamazaki Mazak is a Japanese machine tool builder. We produce various types of CNC machines for the metal cutting industry, anywhere from two-axis to nine-axis machines, multi-spindle, multi-turret machines, serving various industries such as automotive, aerospace, semiconductor, and energy, to name a few.
My role is basically to help in before- and after-sales activities such as time study, demonstration, and also turnkey projects. I also help with the proposal of equipment and solutions for the customer’s manufacturing needs.
From your perspective, what are some of the top challenges being faced by manufacturers in the region?
KS: At this moment, I would say manpower—getting skilled manpower is a big issue for most of the manufacturers in SE Asia. Though they have the jobs or the money to buy the right equipment, getting the skilled manpower or engineers to run the machines or to design or make the fixtures or the process—that is one of the big challenges today.
What about from a manufacturing or technology standpoint?
KS: It is manpower. Humans make machines work. Without good, skilled manpower, it will be difficult to run an efficient manufacturing operation.
What is Mazak doing to help customers alleviate this issue?
KS: We are well known for making machines with our own conversational type CNC controller. We understand that our customers are facing problems to find skilled machinist or engineers to operate eg complex five-axis machines. So, we are building a lot of intelligence into the CNC control to make the machine more intelligent and easier to operate and program. That way, the customer will not need to rely on very high-skilled or high-level engineers to run their manufacturing operations.
What are Mazak’s latest innovations in metal cutting machines/technologies?
KS: CNC control technology has now advanced to embrace Artificial Intelligence (AI) with deep learning capabilities; making the manufacturing process more intelligent and efficient. More sensors are being employed on machine tools to monitor the operating condition of the machines to improve manufacturing process
What is your approach when it comes to industry 4.0?
KS: Basically, we encourage our customers to try and adopt IoT solutions such as machine status monitoring, in order to collect data on their machine utilization, so that they could address issues such as machine downtime, so as to keep their machines in the optimum operating condition.
By adopting IoT or Industry 4.0 strategies into their manufacturing process or operations, they will be able to get a faster return on investment.
What new industries are emerging right now?
KS: I think at the moment, there’s been a lot of hype on 3D printing and additive manufacturing; this is a very new area. Traditional manufacturing industries who used to use metal cutting machines to produce their products are now trying to explore hybrid additive manufacturing technologies to manufacture those high-value or high-mix, low-volume products.
We saw that trend globally. Therefore, since 5 years back, our headquarters in Japan has already developed several new hybrid additive manufacturing machines.
What is your take on the e-mobility trend?
KS: Our core business is producing CNC metal cutting machines. As far as e-mobility trend is concerned, it is actually using less metal or plastic parts as the traditional engine is replaced by an electric motor. This means the demand for machining becomes lesser. Actually, I would say it is something that we need to be concerned of—how we are going to find new segments to cover for this shortfall. The manufacturing landscape for the automotive industry will be quite different in the coming years due to e-mobility.
Talks about electric vehicles have been going on for a long time, but there seems to be no massive production or adoption of it especially in southeast asia. Majority of the vehicles will still be those driven by conventional engines.
KS: Correct. Most of these ASEAN countries do not have a good infrastructure yet, such as charging facilities. Also, due to the living conditions of Southeast Asia, which is much cluttered and high density, it is also difficult to implement those infrastructures.
What opportunities are you seeing here in the region?
KS: The opportunities, I would say, would be in the adoption of new technologies such as hybrid additive manufacturing and IoT to complement the current traditional manufacturing processes.
How would you describe the level of manufacturing technology for job shops here in ASEAN?
KS: In Singapore, I would say it is quite matured; but of course, this is a dynamic world. New technologies are coming almost every year, every day. So, industries or SMEs need to be dynamic to adopt these new manufacturing technologies.
What is your outlook for the industry over the next year or two?
KS: There will be a lot of challenges, especially now with this global uncertainty, slow down of the global economy. So, it is anyone’s guess what is going to happen in the next two years. As the saying goes, ‘what goes up must come down, and what goes down must come up’. So, there is a good possibility that those segments that are not doing well today or this year, will slowly recover in the coming years.
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