Scaling up production can be a complicated industrial challenge, but for the Mitsubishi Electric elevator manufacturer, whose goal is ease of “vertical mobility,” rapid vertical growth is emblematic of every cage masterfully assembled on the factory floor. Due to the help of VKS Enterprise software over the past four years, Mitsubishi Electric has fully digitized its operations and standardized its procedures in pursuit of its next stage of Smart Factory development.
A leading elevator manufacturer in the Japanese market especially for over 65 years, Mitsubishi Electric has recently strategically expanded its customer base to include the demanding European market, from office and home buildings to hospitality and health care. Having seen the manufacturing trends of Industry 4.0 take hold within the market over the last years, they were early adopters of Smart Factory and IoT technology. So, it makes sense that the Mitsubishi Electric factory in Veenendaal, The Netherlands, is already very familiar with capturing the elevator market through strategic innovation:
When other elevators in modern high-occupancy buildings were bulky and difficult for engineers to install within the architectural requirements, Mitsubishi Electric designed an updated setup that eliminated the bulky, attached machine room that used to be necessary for operation.
When other elevators with outdated hydraulic systems ran too slowly, Mitsubishi Electric designed new models with faster and more environmentally-friendly traction control systems.
When other elevators lasted for approximately 12 years before requiring servicing, Mitsubishi Electric fought planned obsolescence, building elevators to last 25 and even 40 years depending on the model.
It’s entirely possible to build a faster elevator, and for most people stuck waiting for a lift that’s the sole priority.
Zefanja Langeberg, Mitsubishi Electric’s Components Compiler who works on the shop floor in Veenendaal, wants to be clear, however: “Speed is not everything. We put a large focus on quality here.”
What he says rings true seeing as Mitsubishi elevators have the lowest breakdown rate in the Netherlands, with an average of 1.0 breakdowns per year (compared to the national average of 3.0). Numbers matter, and the data supports Mitsubishi Electric’s motto of “Quality in motion.”
This is why, when other factories dealt with costly product variability on the assembly line due to an uneven distribution of tribal knowledge, Mitsubishi Electric turned to VKS Enterprise’s digitized work instructions software to begin standardizing their assembly line from the ground up. The next big step towards Mitsubishi Electric becoming a fully integrated Smart Factory was digitizing and standardizing their custom work instructions with VKS software.
“VKS is a great program to use. There are a lot of opportunities, and after four years I still don’t think I have found them all.”
After 65 years of elevator excellence, Mitsubishi Electric anticipates maintenance after a mere 40 years of service, proving that the goal is to build mobility systems that last, first and foremost.
The same proves true for their workforce on the factory floor. To ensure a high-quality production line with few unexpected defects, Mitsubishi Electric focused on capturing the tribal knowledge of their most experienced floor workers. Unfortunately, initial efforts at standardizing the shop floor meant that the burden of SOP creation was shouldered by the legacy workers themselves, who were more eager to get back to welding than to painstakingly draft comprehensive instruction manuals.
The problem compiled into a greater potential fault point when Mitsubishi Electric designed their European MOVE elevator system. These new elevators are quite different from the standard Japanese model with which assembly workers were expertly familiar. For one, Mitsubishi Electric designed the MOVE elevators to be interlocking, modular systems that can be put together in a sustainable manner without the use of spray-paint or gluing, which can prematurely degrade materials.
Since the MOVE model was designed in Veenendaal specifically for European use, the plant needed its own standardized work instructions software to aid in the assembly process that wasn’t yet routine. Mitsubishi Electric had the perfect design and plan in place, but they needed help in implementing that incredibly high standard. In order for the MOVE model to be successful, it needed to be more reliable than almost every other elevator on the market. That high-quality reliability, iconic to the Mitsubishi brand, is not developed just for PR—it shines through the obvious quality of the craftsmanship.
The issue, however, was that the factory knew their targeted goal, but had no multifunctional system of streamlining brand new step-by-step instructions that were developed solely for the new MOVE models. This is where they sought specialized management including work instructions through VKS.
As for how Mitsubishi Electric’s assembly line operated before VKS?
“We had books,” Langeberg laughs at the anachronism. “I think it was around 200 pages for each book, and if there was something wrong in the text or if the picture wasn’t good anymore we had to print it all out over and over again, so that’s a lot of paper. Each book we had to print at least 3 times, so it was a lot of work—putting stuff into books, pulling old books out, putting new ones in—we save a lot of time now.”
Instead of the old way that Langeberg describes as “taking [new employees] by the hand and going step by step” to ensure proper standard work, VKS is much easier at implementing and maintaining workplace standardization.
Of course, some workers, comfortable with their individual routines, initially resisted the change to digital work instructions. “Normally, people have a lot of work experience and they make the product because they know how,” Langeberg explains. When employees are proud of their work, it can be difficult to urge them to shake up routines that already work well for them.
There are more benefits of digital work instructions than gains on efficiency, however. Langeberg insists that his employees follow the instructions and physically approve critical steps through interactive forms within the work instructions. In this way, VKS digital work instructions provide accountability throughout the shop floor. If a problem ever emerges despite this, the error can be immediately traced back to the individual who performed that step.
VKS’ Smart Forms feature can convince even the most stubborn longtime workers of the benefits of standardization. In a similar theme to accountability, VKS uses quality check forms for increased traceability in the production life cycle. This incorporation of quality check forms with standardized digital work instructions goes farther than the factory floor to ensure satisfactory production: in the rare case where a client receives a damaged product, Mitsubishi Electric can refer back to prior quality check forms that include pictures and measurements of the product before it leaves the warehouse.
“If people in Germany say, ‘Oh we didn’t get the parts,’ then we can show them the picture [of the finished product leaving the facility]. VKS Forms capture data for each assembly step so if we have made a mistake we know exactly where it is. If there was a mistake in one of the parts then it used to get back to the people who did it eventually. Before, we couldn’t see who it was. And now with VKS it’s possible to see who did it.” Both the accountability in production and the traceability in distribution work wonders in decreasing costs and ensuring brand reliability.
Besides being easier and faster from the get-go, VKS digital work instructions are easier to fix in practice, too: “When people on the floor see something that has to be changed I get an email with the page number and I can find it and change it in no time,” Langeberg says, “They used to use Whatsapp and they’d send the error to me and I’d have to search for the right page. Now that it’s an email [with a direct link to the correct instruction], it’s easier.”
Ultimately, even though it took a little time for workers to accept change, they were pleased with the results that came from VKS. For those on the shop floor, “They didn’t like having to write down problems on paper, wait, and then find out the paper got lost or thrown away. Some things never change. But they were happy to drop the books, so they are happy now.”
Before implementing the VKS software, Mitsubishi Electric lacked a reliable data capturing system that could provide valuable feedback for analysis. “Now that we use forms to check for quality, it’s better—according to our reports,” says Langeberg.
The upgrade to proper automatic data collection with VKS Enterprise was sorely anticipated because Mitsubishi Electric already employs the same type of technology in their modern elevators, so they know the benefits of Smart Factory applications.
In new elevator models, the central control unit can be connected to the internet, allowing for advanced automatic functions to monitor conditions for preventative maintenance and optimal performance programming. The control panel can be easily operated with a touchscreen and advanced sensors are positioned throughout the cage, reducing the number of mechanical switches and components prone to failure.
In the same manner that Mitsubishi Electric revamped elevator design to uncover new sustainability metrics, VKS redesigned work instructions to standardize production, leading to a more efficient system overall from product conception to installation. In implementing this initiative, workforce standardization has helped uncover new paths to Smart Factory integration.
VKS Enterprise is an investment that continues to pay off dividends with each feature. Having already successfully transformed the shop floor with VKS, Mitsubishi continues to seek innovative ways to pursue continuous improvement. The next step in their path to Smart Factory integration is to implement VKS’ ToolConnect feature. This function ensures proper assembly by communicating with intelligent torque tools using open protocol. For example, for every screw or bolt applied in the assembly process, ToolConnect measures the performed action and verifies that the proper torque, angle, and thread count are achieved. After the platform verifies that the correct figures have been met, the work instruction automatically moves to the next step of the process, keeping the operator in sync with the work instructions in real time.
Besides ensuring standardized quality control in production, ToolConnect offers higher levels of traceability for added quality assurance if additional data analysis is ever needed. In this way, ToolConnect does more than provide a failsafe for quality control—it helps to complete a full device history record for each elevator in every batch shipped out.
Mitsubishi Electric has thus far retrofitted elevators from mechanical nuisances to Smart technology systems that greatly aid in the overall architecture and human flow of building planning. With the introduction of so many necessary features for modern elevators, the potential for production error increases. Therefore, the need for standardized work instructions at Mitsubishi Electric was dire, given the great leaps ahead of the competition they have begun to capitalize upon.
A key element in developing Mitsubishi Electric’s MOVE elevator model was dedication towards environmental sustainability. For their new MOVE elevator, they reuse as many parts as possible in the production process, leading to a 25% decrease in material usage and an official designation of an “A” energy level ranking. The MOVE elevator system is C2C-certified, also known as cradle-to-cradle, which means that sustainable production is foremost in design.
The MOVE elevators are easy to disassemble and install, and after 25-40 years of service, most of the parts can be rebuilt into newer MOVE models in a revolutionary dedication to sustainability.
Fewer mechanical parts means a direct decrease in pollution output and big savings on product cost, timing, and maintenance protocols. Mitsubishi Electric has cleverly identified that sustainability in design and production has multiple benefits that reach beyond the product itself to have a lasting impact.
Pro Tip: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has become a necessary part of a safe uniform during the pandemic. On Mitsubishi Electric’s shop floor in the Netherlands, VKS’ pictogram feature reminds workers to wear safety goggles, ear protection, and safety shoes on the shop floor, as safety is a top priority at Mitsubishi.
As the available technology of Industry 4.0 grows in breadth and in application, elevators could evolve to be “Smarter” than ever considered possible, and Mitsubishi Electric is poised to handle the future of vertical mobility. By outfitting the MOVE elevator with Smart Factory technology like sensors and predictive traffic reporting, Mitsubishi elevators can track the busiest usage times and automatically alter the algorithm that triggers the elevator cab timing system for optimized functioning. Now that Mitsubishi Electric’s shop floor is fully digital with the help of VKS Enterprise, they can focus on prioritizing their research and development in order to make vertical mobility more accessible, sustainable, and comfortable.
Why waste parts on new elevators when they can be reused? So why waste paper on instructions when a digital system is so much more efficient in every respect?
The addition of VKS Enterprise to Mitsubishi Electric’s shop floor was more than just a cost-saving addendum. It is an investment with an immediate payoff that extends beyond present cost-saving measures and into the realm of Smart Factory applications, where the future of manufacturing lies.
As of now, workers no longer pore over 200-page binders of printed instructions that often get dirtied or lost.
“All those books are obsolete now thanks to VKS,” breathes Langeberg with a small sigh of relief. With the demand for high-quality elevators rising, it’s easy to see that Mitsubishi prefers a lean, standardized workflow to fulfill the continuous demand required of their busy Smart Factory.
And although this kind of continuous improvement in manufacturing has been decades in the making for Mitsubishi Electric, VKS is proud to be a final puzzle piece that completes their picture-perfect — and newly paperless — industrial success.