"Social Device" Special Interview

The contents were published from July 2016 to February 2017 on"Nikkei Technology Online", the engineering information website run by Nikkei Business Publications, Inc., and reprinted with the author's permission.

※Information of affiliations and titles is true and accurate at the time of publication.

The New Industrial Revolution leads new society High efficiency technologies push it

Germany is pushing strongly ahead with Industrie 4.0, a national project aiming to bring about the "fourth industrial revolution." Frank Knafla, driving the Industrie 4.0 project at Phoenix ContactGmbH & Co. KG of Germany, a leading industrial contact manufacturer, met with Kazuhide Ino, in charge of the next-generation power device business of ROHM Co., Ltd. of Japan. The venue was Hannover Messe 2016, the largest annual industrial exhibition in the world.

Ino

 I dropped by your booth earlier; Phoenix Contact has a very large line of products.

Knafla

 Phoenix Contact was established in 1923, handling contact wire terminals for power distribution systems. We gradually increased our product line-up, experiencing significant growth in the 1960s and 70s. We entered the Factory Automation (FA) market in the mid-1980s, and our divisional structure has remained almost unchanged since. We now offer a diverse selection of products including power supplies, over-voltage protection components, industrial networking equipment, Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC), Human-Machine Interface (HMI) systems, and security equipment. In fact, we offer just about everything for FA. In the industrial market we are recognized around the globe as a leading German company.

 ROHM is a supplier of semiconductors and electronic components.

Ino

 Yes. ROHM is headquartered in Kyoto, and was founded in 1958 to manufacture resistors. In 1967 we entered the semiconductor device market, beginning with transistors and diodes, and today over 90% of our revenue comes from LSI and other semiconductor devices. We used to specialize in products for consumer electronics, but recently business in the industrial equipment and automotive markets has been increasing its share of the total.

Knafla

 The company handles a wide range of devices, I see. Which are you involved with?

Ino

 Power devices, including next-gen power devices made with silicon carbide (SiC). Power devices are semiconductor devices capable of handling large wattages. Power devices used to be mostly made with silicon (Si), but the new SiC designs offer a variety of advantages that Si cannot match, such as higher rated voltage, higher efficiency, and faster speed. ROHM was the first company in the world to launch volume production of a SiC power MOSFET, in 2010. And we have continued to lead the industry in the development of SiC power device technology since.

 Your title reads "Master Specialist Industrie 4.0." What sort of work are you in charge of?

Knafla

 As you know, Industrie 4.0 is a German national project designed to upgrade the manufacturing industry. I am driving Phoenix Contact operations related to the project, serving as the point of contact for all Industrie 4.0-related enquiries, as well as providing information on our own activities and technologies. From 2014 to 2015, I served on the Platform Industrie 4.0 , which is basically the Industrie 4.0 secretariat, and was also a member of a working group.

Focusing on Practical Products and Technologies

Ino

 The so-called fourth industrial revolution, namely utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and other advanced technologies to revolutionize manufacturing, has become a global initiative. I think Industrie 4.0 was the primary catalyst that brought about this sudden burgeoning of interest. Engineers in the manufacturing industry around the world are keeping a close eye on this movement.

Knafla

 Industrie 4.0 was initiated, in part, to address the increasing diversification of consumers in the industrialized nations. Consumers these days want products they meet their individual preferences: the older volume production business model of the manufacturing industry is no longer able to satisfy the market. This has created the need for a new manufacturing platform capable of efficiently producing custom products for individual consumers, what we call "mass customization." New technologies such as IoT will be indispensible in making it possible. We have already launched a number of concrete projects in-house, and are beginning to provide functional solutions to corporations involved in the manufacturing revolution.

Ino

 Initiatives with the same goals as Industrie 4.0 have also begun in Japan, and that is increasing the keen interest that Japanese engineers have in Industrie 4.0.

 IoT is a crucial technology, even within the various technologies involved in the fourth industrial revolution. There has been rising interest of late in the concepts of IoT, and an increasing number of companies are investigating exactly how it can be utilized in their business, and what they need to do to make it work.

 We are helping them find solutions by offering one of the first line-ups of sensing and wireless communication products essential in IoT systems. Concretely, we are expanding our selection of sensing devices and wireless communication modules.

Advanced Technology to Resolve Social Issues

Ino

 The fourth industrial revolution will not only realize a wholly new framework for the manufacturing industry, but is also expected to help resolve a number of socialissues facing industrialized nations today, including ageing populations, energy shortage, and the global environment. ROHM is making a contribution by providing the advanced electronic devices needed to make it happen.

 As part of our work we are participating in Hannover Messe as an exhibitor for the first time this year, introducing our technologies and solutions to the people of Europe (Fig. 1). I think it is pretty uncommon for a Japanese semiconductor manufacturer to exhibit here. We are showing a range of wireless communication modules, sensors, and the SiC power devices I'm involved with, for use with IoT systems.

Fig. 1 The ROHM Booth at Hannover Messe
ROHM exhibited for the first time at Hannover Messe in 2016, displaying a Formula E racer scheduled to mount its SiC Schottky barrier diodes.
Fig. 1 The ROHM Booth at Hannover Messe
ROHM exhibited for the first time at Hannover Messe in 2016, displaying a Formula E racer scheduled to mount its SiC Schottky barrier diodes.
Knafla

 Phoenix Contact products are for industrial use, so I don't think most people feel they have any direct effect on our daily life. But in reality our products are making possible a variety of very sophisticated production processes. By driving advanced automation through smart devices, the internet and other technologies, I am confident that we will have an enormous impact on society. In order for that to happen, though, the people on the shop floor will first need to master new knowledge.

 We have launched in-house programs to start to accumulate that knowledge, and will be making an effort to educate everyone, from the shop floor through R&D, on the significance of Industrie 4.0. We want everyone to understand their roles in the process. We are also advancing the use of digital data in every process and division. This often demands new technology, of course, and that in turn demands training to help people overcome their worries about new technologies. Preparation is now complete, and the first educational programs will be starting up shortly. We also have a program explaining wireless communication technology, so employees can gain a broader understanding.

Leveraging Technology in Diverse Ways

Ino
Fig. 2 General Manager Ino introducing the latest SiC power device technology
Fig. 2 General Manager Ino introducing the latest SiC power device technology

 ROHM specializes in electronic devices, but we keep pertinent social issues in mind when developing new products. Smaller devices, for example, means that we consume less material. Saving energy is a major social issue these days, and the SiC power devices I handle are making a direct contribution to helping resolve that problem (Fig. 2).

 SiC has a dielectric breakdown strength about ten times higher than silicon, about three times the band gap, and a coefficient of thermal conductivity about three time higher. Simple replacement of Si power devices with SiC designs would slash in-circuit power losses to a tenth of what they are now.

Knafla

That's a pretty astonishing number.

Ino

 SiC power devices make it possible to dramatically reduce the heat generated by electronic circuits, and since SiC can operate at higher temperatures than Si, the heat sink and other cooling devices can be made smaller. These characteristics help manufacturers design small and lighter equipment, reducing total energy consumption.

 For example, we recently developed a SiC MOSFET rated at 1700 volts, for general-purpose inverters or power supplies for auxiliarymachinery in industrial systems . Until now, Si MOSFETs rated at 1000 volts or above faced large conductance losses in operation, which caused significant heating. Large radiators were required to handle the heat, and peripheral components also had a number of restrictions imposed as a result. All in all, it was difficult to miniaturize these products. The new SiC MOSFET, however, cuts conductance losses to an eighth, allowing smaller radiators and looser restrictions on peripheral components. Together with the AC/DC converter control integrated circuit (IC) we developed for the SiC MOSFET drive, efficiency can be improved by up to six percent (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3 SiC Power Device Advantages
Fig. 3 SiC Power Device Advantages
Knafla
Fig. 4 The Phoenix Contact display included a system to improve efficiency in the automotive industr
Fig. 4 The Phoenix Contact display included a system to improve efficiency in the automotive industr

 Technologies utilizing energy with high efficiency will be increasingly important in the future. My firm is introducing a number of cutting-edge solutions here at Hannover Messe this year, and the overriding theme is improving energy efficiency. The Phoenix Contact booth is exhibiting solutions to improve energy consumption efficiency in automotive manufacturing lines (Fig. 4). From 2010–2012, we also participated in the Green Carbody Technologies industry initiative to minimize energy and other resources consumed by automotive manufacturing systems. It seems both of our companies are interested in higher efficiency.

 Another important point in boosting efficiency is minimizing the energy consumed by individual components. Additional systems to manage energy and manufacturing efficiency for the entire manufacturing system will boost overall efficiency even higher.

 We recently worked with a company that makes server rooms, on reducing power consumption, and the only information they gave us in advance was that the microprocessors driving the servers ran on five-volt supplies. When you consider the total server room, though, it is clear that power is consumed by more than just the microprocessors: lighting, for example, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) also use a lot of power. We proposed an intelligent management system to control the entire process, including HVAC and everything.

Ino

 It is crucial to look at both device and system when trying to improve energy efficiency.

Engineers Must Command a Wide Range of Knowledge

Knafla

 So many different systems urgently need optimization on the system level. Large-scale systems like factories, though, are composed of diverse technologies including machinery, controls, semiconductors, and information and communications (ICT). Engineers developing optimized solutions for these complex systems must be familiar with a wide range of technological fields, and be able to visualize the entire system as a whole. Most of the time, however, engineers are specialists in their own particular fields, and there aren't very many who work outside their comfort zones, interacting with specialists in other fields. The time has come for engineers to proactively seek out and interact with people in other disciplines, though. The chances of developing the optimal solution to a problem improve significantly through discussion with people in various specialties.

Ino

 We've only just launched the initiatives that will achieve the fourth industrial revolution, and no doubt no problems will appear in the future. These problems are actually business opportunities, but it is important to clarify exactly what the goals are, and not just focus on a single new technology like IoT.

Knafla

 A pertinent observation. Let me add one of my own, something I often think of. I would paraphrase it as, "The deeper you pursue a technology, the more you discover." We already have the Industrie 4.0 concept, and the frameworks for the development of IoT and other systems. At present, though, we do not have clear definition of exactly what Industrie 4.0 is, or what IoT is. A clear definition will be essential in attaining practical IoT, and once the objective is clearly known, engineers will be able to develop the new technologies needed to achieve it.

Ino

 ROHM has developed many custom LSI , and every custom job demands that we listen very closely to exactly what the customer wants. We try to provide them with a range of possible solutions to resolve each problem. And we hope to provide a range of new solutions to resolve the problems sure to arise as we pursue the fourth industrial resolution.

 Thank you for speaking with me today.

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