VIPA integrated - reorganization

Yaskawa Europe is setting a new course in terms of organization and products, particularly control technology and software. CEO Manfred Stern explains in further detail.

Text/Interview: Günter Herkommer, chief editor, Computer&AUTOMATION


Mr. Stern, since March Yaskawa Europe has introduced a new organizational structure. What does this actually entail?

Manfred Stern: First of all, as of March 1st, the previously separate 'Drives & Motion' and 'VIPA Controls' divisions merged to become the new 'Drives Motion & Controls' division or DMC for short. As a result of this reorganization of the aforementioned sectors, we believe that we can now move forward much more efficiently and, more importantly, offer customers an improved and more standardized service. The DMC division is managed by Norbert Gauß, who was previously responsible for Drives & Motion.

We then launched an entirely new business unit – the 'Environmental Energy' division, consisting of the three business units 'Wind', 'Marine' and 'Turbo Motors & Industry'. With the latter unit, we are targeting the market for high-performance pumps and compressors, for example the demand for special, very high-speed, high-powered engines. This division is headed by Jukka-Pekka Mäkinen, former CEO of the Yaskawa subsidiary, The Switch, based in Finland.

Together with the former Robotics division, our business will thus be based on three fundamental pillars. Mr. Linkenbach, who previously managed VIPA, has taken over the task of organizational development at the European headquarters.

Five years after purchasing VIPA, is the control technology provider from Herzogenaurach now completely integrated in Yaskawa?

Manfred Stern: Correct. Although VIPA GmbH still exists – in other words, the legal merger is not yet complete. In terms of public presence, the name VIPA will no longer be promoted since the organization has merged into DMC. That does not mean that we forget the history of VIPA! Quite the opposite in fact. We will continue to actively market the original VIPA products – taking particular care to maintain the look and feel of the 300 series control systems. We see enormous demand for these products in the next few years. This is one of the reasons why we added even more CPU power and some new features to the 300S plus last year.In other words, the 300 series is not an incidental product but remains one of our core components. At the same time, however, we are working hard on new product lines in which we are currently investing the bulk of our development resources.

Which new products are these?

Manfred Stern: Firstly, we are further developing the SLIO smart I/O system and the MicroPLC, which was launched just a year ago and for which we have released the upgrades for analog I/Os in the last few weeks. In addition, an integrated web server has recently been added to both SLIO and MicroPLC.

However, the largest project with a global focus within Yaskawa is the development of a completely new generation of controllers known internally as the 'Unified Controller'. This is a uniform and modular HW platform, which in the future can be used equally well for motion control, PLC applications and also robotics applications, with the exception of very specific applications such as welding. The 'heart' and intelligence of this hardware platform is a new SoC, which is currently being developed by colleagues from the VIPA subsidiary Profichip in Herzogenaurach and our R&D headquarters in Kokura, Japan.

A completely new software based on IEC 61131-3 will also be installed on the hardware and above that are the components required to be compatible with Industry 4.0 – in other words OPC UA and everything that this implies.

In addition to this, we have recently launched Antaios, our new communication ASIC also developed by Profichip. Interestingly, this was first launched in Japan! The reason for this is that in addition to established protocols in Europe, this ASIC supports the Mechatrolink protocol popular in Japan and China, which helps us to harmonize the global Yaskawa world with the Western communication systems. This module is also available on the market through Profichip.

Was it not originally planned to use the software Speed7 Studio originally designed by VIPA as a counterpart to the Siemens TIA portal as an overarching software framework for all Yaskawa platforms?

Manfred Stern: We can certainly incorporate certain features of Speed7 Studio as modules in the new software environment; however, this will not be Speed7 Studio in its original format. As I already explained, Speed7 Studio was created in VIPA times and therefore did not benefit from Yaskawa's global vision with all its product lines, including robotics. In this respect, the development specification goes beyond the original planning. One aspect in which the colleagues from Herzogenaurach and the Motion division from Eschborn are closely involved is the development of integrated safety technology for the upcoming control platform.

What does the roadmap of the 'Unified Controller' look like?

Manfred Stern: We want to start with the roll-out of the products – especially in terms of the hardware – in 2020/2021. Products for integrated safety technology, which incidentally are also compatible with SLIO, will be available a year earlier.

The Hannover Messe trade fair 2018 will start soon but it has been a long time since Yaskawa appeared as an exhibitor. What prompted you to return?

Manfred Stern: True, the last time the Yaskawa group was represented at the trade fair was 2007 – apart from our joint appearance with VIPA in recent years. Our return in 2018 is primarily due to the fact that the Hannover Messe has, in my opinion, become a 'showcase' for Industry 4.0. With our stand in Hall 17, we want to emphasize that Yaskawa has a lot to contribute to this topic.

What is the specific theme of your trade fair exhibition?

Manfred Stern: The overarching theme of our exhibition will be 'i3 mechatronics'. The three 'i's stand for innovative, integrated and intelligent. We aim to bring our vision to life in Hanover by demo nstrating the synergy of our main product lines – robots, servo systems, inverters and, of course, controllers – with the 'Yaskawa cockpit'. The cockpit is also a completely new platform consisting of intelligent software components together witha central database, modules for collecting, analyzing and displaying data, a web server and e-mail alarm as well as standard interfaces to superordinate systems such as OPC UA and HTTP.

In other words, the Yaskawa Cockpit is where all of the data generated in a variety of locations comes together to draw the appropriate conclusions. For example, this data can be used for the purposes of asset management, predictive maintenance, quality management or alarm handling, or to increase the throughput in production. With this objective, external tools can also be docked to the cockpit – take artificial intelligence as an example. In this regard, we are already working with partners in Japan – including IBM Watson – to ensure that IBM processes and evaluates the data provided by our devices and then re-integrates the results back into the cockpit.

If Industry 4.0 holds such significance for Yaskawa, why do you exhibit in the robotics area in Hall 17 and not in the control or automation technology area in Hall 9?

Manfred Stern: Whenever there is talk of Industry 4.0 nowadays, robotics is becoming ever more prevalent – which is why it makes sense to exhibit in Hall 17. If we wanted all our product ranges to be exhibited in the 'correct' areas, we would have to appear in several halls in Hanover – but that makes no sense. This is also the reason why VIPA or the control technology will not be found in Hall 9 this year as it was previously. The message we ultimately want to convey is that our trade fair appearance in Hanover is not a robotics event, but a platform to showcase the complete automation portfolio.


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