PlayStation’s secret weapon: a nearly all-automated factory
In May this year, the Indian Prime Minister launched the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ or ‘Self-Reliant India Mission’ to reduce dependence on imports and boost domestic manufacturing. Given the large share of electronic goods in the import bill, naturally this is one industry that is high up on the priority for this mission. Whilst it might help achieve import substitution, it may not necessarily help with job creation, an equally imperative need to make the demographic dividend work in favour of economic growth – thanks to large scale automation in electronics manufacturing. As this article in the Nikkei Asian Review shows, Sony has achieved almost complete automation in this factory in Japan that makes the world’s favourite gaming console – Playstation. And at no mean scale – PS4, its fourth-generation console, alone has so far earned Sony c.$100bn in revenues and c.$10bn in profits.
“Sony’s PlayStation has won hundreds of millions of fans across the world since its launch in 1994. But few know just how much of the console’s success can be attributed to an unassuming factory located just across the bay from Tokyo.
On the outskirts of Kisarazu, a large, white building towers over an otherwise suburban landscape. Once inside, visitors are greeted by the whirring of motors as dozens of robots seamlessly churn out PlayStation 4 consoles.
Just a few humans were present to deal with a handful of tasks — two to feed bare motherboards to the line, and two to package the finished consoles.
But the actual assembly is done entirely by articulated robots, supplied by Mitsubishi Electric. The 31.4-meter line, completed in 2018, has the ability to churn out a new console every 30 seconds.
One of the plant’s crowning achievements is the use of robots to attach wires, tape and other flexible parts to the consoles. Twenty-six out of 32 robots at the Kisarazu plant are dedicated to the task, deftly handling materials most robots would find too finicky.
For example, attaching the flexible flat cable — a tape-like electrical cord — requires one robot arm to hold up the cable and another to twist it. The cable then needs to be attached in a specific direction using just the right pressure, which may seem simple for a human but is an extremely complex maneuver for robot.
“There’s probably no other site that can manipulate robots in this manner,” said an engineer. Every process — all the way to final packaging — is automated. The blend of robotic and human labor is painstakingly optimized with a priority on return on investment.
“I created profitable production lines,” said Hiroyuki Kusakabe, general architect at SGMO.
The focus on productivity traces its DNA back to the original PlayStation that came out in Japan in December 1994. Teiyu Goto, the designer of the original console, concentrated on crafting a gaming system that lends itself easily to mass production.
Goto reportedly pushed the engineers at the Kisarazu site to improve productivity. The refined production tech was then transferred to contract manufacturers.”