Japan’s YASKAWA Electric Corporation has extensive experience in the ‘mechatronics’ field, specializing in industrial robots and motion controls. Though economic globalization has risen continuously, manufacturing in Japan has maintained a sense
of craftsmanship that is their own. The fruits of this craftsmanship are precision industrial products such as automobiles and electronics, and engineering technologies that support their high quality. As such, YASKAWA developed a proprietary robot simulator,
MotoSim-EG, which monitors the operation of its industrial robots and proactively identifies potential risks. Along with the simulator, YASKAWA has also developed an in-house program, generated from 3D CAD data and built in a virtual space, that issues operational
commands to robots while checking actual movements and verifying issues.
“We feel supported and have peace of mind because we are backed up by Microsoft’s knowledge. I feel that we can do our best work because every one of us can step up to the plate with confidence.”
Looking to strengthen the quality of their robotic software, YASKAWA needed to develop more advanced functions to meet the critical requirements of the manufacturing industry.
“In the past, when an automaker launched a new production line, the usual method was to actually install the industrial robots in the plant, and then have the operators manually teach the robots the movements to make. Today, this sort of design is required
to be simulated on computers while the production line is being built. Operating programs and layouts are created in advance so that all of the robots can start being used as soon as the line is completed,” said Kiyoshi Hirakawa, General Manager, Control Technology,
Robotics Business Division, YASKAWA.
In a highly competitive market, new products have to be brought out quickly and production schedules for sending out high-quality products are becoming shorter. Additionally, with significant globalization in recent years, supply chains for development,
manufacturing, shipping, and sales have become more widely dispersed yet more closely linked. As such, problems that crop up in one location can have an immediate impact on all locations. This requires an extremely high level of performance of YASKAWA’s MotoSim-EG
development support simulation software. Hirakawa explained how the performance of controllers on the robotic production line was once considered to be the most important element of the line’s success, whereas today, the quality of the simulator determines
the overall performance of the machinery and the process.
“Today, there is virtually no difference between the importance that we attach to the software simulator and to the actual machinery,” said Hirakawa, “If we can’t do high-precision simulations, we can’t optimize the performance of the robots, no matter how
advanced those robots might be.”
YASKAWA developers were also facing challenges acquiring new knowledge in order to improve their technical capabilities in order to stay on the bleeding edge of robotics. With shorter work cycles and fierce competition in the industry, there was very little
time for professional training or development.
With increasingly stringent requirements for their software, YASKAWA decided to look for an external partner to provide additional technical support.
YASKAWA’s Robotics Business Division talked to a number of consultants, software companies and other experts while searching for a solution partner, however were not able to find a vendor with the expertise they were looking for right away. Finally, they
met with a team from Microsoft Japan’s Support Contract Center, who demonstrated proven expertise and firm commitment to meeting YASKAWA’s objectives. Microsoft Premier Support for Developers promised technical personnel with high-level, specialized expertise,
who would work onsite at YASKAWA to hold collaborative workshops with YASKAWA’s developers. From the initial meetings, YASKAWA’s Robotics Business Division was quite confident in Microsoft’s abilities to meet their development needs.
YASKAWA had already been using Microsoft Foundation Class (MFC), an application framework, in its development work for MotoSim-EG. However, there were still instances in which the team at YASKAWA could not get the kind of results they wanted in terms of
improving performance. Koichi Kuwahara, Section Manager of Control Technology in YASKAWA’s Robotics Business Division served as development leader on the project, and noted that one of their primary goals through the engagement with Microsoft Premier Support
for Developers was to improve the performance of MotoSim-EG using MFC.
With only a small team involved in MotoSim-EG software development, YASKAWA required a working partnership that allowed for ongoing support delivered on an as-needed basis in order to control support costs. Premier Support for Developers provided a tailored
approach that included fee-based support and a customized service menu to meet the needs of the engineers involved in the mission-critical development work. YASKAWA signed an official agreement to engage Microsoft Premier Support for Developers for projects
that were already in progress, and required immediate attention. Support from Microsoft began that same day, with subject matter experts and engineers on-site at YASKAWA to begin workshops and lectures that would continue for the next two months.
Premier Support for Developers provided consistent, proactive services throughout the entire software life cycle, from application design to development and day-to-day operations, improvements, and troubleshooting. Microsoft performed detailed source code
assessments and reviewed customer documents from a support engineer’s perspective, to ensure the right steps were taken from the beginning of the development cycle. To avoid risk and prevent foreseeable issues, Premier Support created sample code and provided
extensive installation and testing services including root cause analysis, followed by implementing measures to prevent the reoccurrence of problems. Premier Support also worked collaboratively with YASKAWA developers to provide operational support and performance
tuning to resolve any issues discovered during the course of installation and testing, and even after production had started.
Benefits High ROI achieved through partnership with high-level experts
Just six months into the partnership with Microsoft Premier Support for Developers, Kuwahara had already seen a high return on the investment.
“The first thing I noticed was that the technical people Microsoft sent to us had an extremely high level of expertise. Immediately after we started using the support system, Microsoft produced a sample of the program we wanted. Normally, when you get a
sample, it isn’t something you can actually use. But the sample from Premier Support was put together so well that we were eventually able to use it in the actual program. With Microsoft’s help, creation of the program was very efficient, and we were able
to incorporate it into the final product in a short time.”
Kuwahara went on to acclaim the skill level of Microsoft’s support engineers, which was clearly evident: “In everyday communications, we could see Microsoft’s high level of skill. We are also engineers ourselves, so even in a simple conversation, we could
tell that these were engineers who really knew their stuff.”
Significant knowledge transfer through on-site collaboration
Yoshifumi Onoyama, who is involved in developing simulation systems in Control Technology in the Robotics Business Division of YASKAWA pointed out the value of having direct contact with Microsoft support engineers: “Often sample programs appear to have
documentation that make it seem easy to use, however once you get started, the information is not detailed enough so we are left fumbling around and guessing. With Premier Support, the engineers who created the sample give us clear explanations on how to work
with the product, and can answer any questions we have right away. This gives us much more confidence in using the program.”
Onoyama noted that the ability to communicate with Microsoft engineers in person, and at any time, was also valuable in terms of increasing their ability to obtain cutting-edge technical information quickly and easily. YASKAWA developers now have information
and resources available at their fingertips, and receive sophisticated ongoing development support and training by Microsoft’s specialized engineers. This has helped improve their teams’ skills and promote the accumulation of best practices and enhanced technological
Increased efficiency in workflows and faster problem resolution
Kuwahara noted that as a result of the partnership with Microsoft Premier Support for Developers, YASKAWA has increased their efficiency and they have achieved noticeably stronger and more positive results across a variety of processes, all working within
tight timelines. Premier Support engineers customized MFC to better meet YASKAWA’s needs and provided training for YASKAWA staff to improve their use of the program, resulting in a reduction of processing times by almost 17%.
“We understand the restrictions and limitations of MFC, but Microsoft Premier Support helped us to optimize the program through customization, initial setup with specific conditions, and recommendations for best practices to work with the program,” added
The benefits of the system consulting provided by Premier Support for Developers go beyond the ability to solve problems on the spot. YASKAWA received detailed explanations of underlying issues and concepts, which were very helpful when combined with existing
specialized internal knowledge. Onoyama noted that with new staff capabilities and debugging methods, he is confident that even higher levels of quality can be achieved moving forward.
Peace of mind provided through access to ongoing support and enhanced knowledge
For Kuwahara, one the biggest benefits to their team was the peace of mind provided through the partnership with Premier Support for Developers. In and of itself, he noted that: “If anything happens, we can ask Microsoft Premier Support, which helps us and
our engineers feel more secure. The more vital the project is, or perhaps if it is the first time we are attempting something, the more uneasy and nervous we are about whether or not we will actually be able to do it. Now, when we’re in a crunch, we feel supported
and have peace of mind because we are backed up by Microsoft’s knowledge. I feel that we can do our best work because every one of us can step up to the plate with confidence.”
YASKAWA is planning to enhance their use of Premier Support for Developers in the coming year. Kuwahara noted that he is eager to actively incorporate the latest in Microsoft technology through the support system, and anticipates that applying this technology
to YASKAWA’s products will bring major improvements in quality.
“In particular, I feel that people outside of Japan are more advanced when it comes to the development of Windows® PC software. I am hoping that we can really make improvements to the software we develop, starting with MotoSim-EG. As globalization progresses,
I think this is going to be very significant in helping YASKAWA maintain a position of leadership in the software development field,” said Kuwahara.
In the context of a strategic road map for improving quality, Hirakawa is positioning the engagement with Premier Support for Developers as a first step toward setting up an in-house system to improve development quality. As Hirakawa described, Premier Support
for Developers conquers areas that can only be resolved with the latest information and sophisticated know-how. He feels that applying this software to an even broader range of core products will enable YASKAWA to achieve a system that will improve quality
across the board. Premier Support for Developers continues to provide strong support in every sense for YASKAWA’s ongoing pursuit of world-class levels of technology.
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