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Business PlayStation's Secret Weapon: A Nearly All-automated Factory in Tokyo

Bo_Hazem

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Now that sounds "Japanese"! No more "Made in China"! This is how Japanese products will counter the cheap labour with bad yields by more efficient, cheaper-in-the-long-run method: (Thanks to THE:MILKMAN THE:MILKMAN for the catch)

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PlayStation's secret weapon: a nearly all-automated factory
Robots carry on legacy of craftsmanship at little-known Kisarazu plant


PlayStation 4 units come off the assembly line at a pace of about one every 30 seconds. (Photo by Kento Awashima)

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.

The Kisarazu plant is operated by Sony Global Manufacturing & Operations, or SGMO, the group's manufacturing arm. The unit has worked with video game unit Sony Interactive Entertainment to bring cutting-edge technologies to the facility.



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.


This factory in Kisarazu, across Tokyo Bay from Japan's capital, has manufactured PlayStation devices since the first model debuted in 1994. (Photo by Kento Awashima)

"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.


Robotic fingers deftly attach wires and other flexible components. (Photo by Kento Awashima)

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.


A robot arm grabs PlayStation 4 units from the assembly line and places them on a platform for testing. (Photo by Kento Awashima)

The 10 trillion yen ($93 billion) in sales and 1 trillion yen in profits generated by the PS4 underpinned the structural reforms introduced by Kazuo Hirai, who served as president and CEO from 2012 to 2018. The console now forms the center of the new Sony, along with film, music and other content.

Engineer Ken Kutaragi, dubbed the father of the PlayStation, championed the device despite pushback from other executives. Twenty-five years later, the series has become the poster child for Sony craftsmanship.

But there is no guarantee of future success. Although the PS2 was a hit when it was released in 2000, when the PS3 came out in 2006, it gave up market share to the Microsoft Xbox. Unlike in the past, the next decade at Sony Group will depend on how well the PS5 is received when it is expected to hit shelves this holiday season.


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Looks to me like a better way to handle business and quality directly in your country, maybe worrying for many jobs as well? But as a gamer, that can only be great news. I think this helps Japanese business worldwide and avoiding all unnecessary heat that China is getting lately from US and for any potential boycotts.

What do you think?
 
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Kerlurk

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This needed it's own separate thread.

Nice post.

Now Sony has shown a manufactured PS5 in what looked like a highly automated factory also, so I believe Sony will start the next generation with only manufactering in Japan for the main console.

This sounds like Sony has found a solution to "soft" hardware assembly of which Tesla has been struggling to pull off for years.
 

Bo_Hazem

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This needed it's own separate thread.

Nice post.

Now Sony has shown a manufactured PS5 in what looked like a highly automated factory also, so I believe Sony will start the next generation with only manufactering in Japan for the main console.

This sounds like Sony has found a solution to "soft" hardware assembly of which Tesla has been struggling to pull off for years.

I want to read "Made in Japan" again. Japanese electronics felt special with that indication, and I think more companies will follow going forward. But it can be slightly problematic for jobs, but you can always have jobs if the business is done in your homeland instead of overseas.
 

-Arcadia-

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Glad to see manufacturing come home to Japan, and I'm impressed by the sheer tech chops on display (when the entire industry, including Apple, is using humans, you know this is quite a feat), but its always a shame to see an opportunity for more local jobs lost.

Particularly, I'm kind of scared about the tech, as this, mainstreamed, has the potential to put more people out of a job.

But this is gaming, not politics (it'd be nice if developers knew the difference as well). Props to Sony for staying ahead of the game like this. I wonder if this will be a difference maker versus Series X at launch? It very well could be. Even having manufacturing in the same country you're selling in, so they go straight to stores, could ease stress on the whole supply system.
 

Bo_Hazem

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Glad to see manufacturing come home to Japan, and I'm impressed by the sheer tech chops on display (when the entire industry, including Apple, is using humans, you know this is quite a feat), but its always a shame to see an opportunity for more local jobs lost.

Particularly, I'm kind of scared about the tech, as this, mainstreamed, has the potential to put more people out of a job.

But this is gaming, not politics (it'd be nice if developers knew the difference as well). Props to Sony for staying ahead of the game like this. I wonder if this will be a difference maker versus Series X at launch? It very well could be. Even having manufacturing in the same country you're selling in, so they go straight to stores, could ease stress on the whole supply system.

It could be, but some companies prefer secrecy in such tech, I think. And overall, it could be expensive, but those billions of PSN are put into something pretty high quality.

For example, Nissan has factories everywhere, but they only build their GT-R in Japan, and the engine is tested and assembled by a handful of engineers. It's better to keep it close and monitored to keep the quality sustainable. It could be something to do even with the reported noisy PS4's that I personally only seen one in person among hundreds!

It's always better to have your business at home, jobs will always be needed somewhere, maybe not as much, but if you bring all the factories back to your country you'll eventually solve your own problems.
 

Slings and Arrows

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Apr 19, 2019
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I've been lucky enough in my career to see some truly world-class top-of-the-industry automated assembly lines and I would love to see this baby in action. 34M of orgasmic robotic efficiency, it's jizz worthy.

I'll give it to the human assembly lines I've seen; some of those people can assemble shit quicker than I have ever thought possible. Assembling a full knife in <3s with 8 parts is inspiring to watch.
 

TGO

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So the rumors of shortages seems to be more bullshit, and they've been testing this method with PS4 first, probably earlier than we thought.
PS5 is like Judgement Day, it's inevitable
And those machines can’t be bargained with.
It can’t be reasoned with.
It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear for MS
And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until PS5 has reach world saturation.
 

FacelessSamurai

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Glad to see manufacturing come home to Japan, and I'm impressed by the sheer tech chops on display (when the entire industry, including Apple, is using humans, you know this is quite a feat), but its always a shame to see an opportunity for more local jobs lost.

Particularly, I'm kind of scared about the tech, as this, mainstreamed, has the potential to put more people out of a job.

But this is gaming, not politics (it'd be nice if developers knew the difference as well). Props to Sony for staying ahead of the game like this. I wonder if this will be a difference maker versus Series X at launch? It very well could be. Even having manufacturing in the same country you're selling in, so they go straight to stores, could ease stress on the whole supply system.
Apple has already tried to automatize everything but apparently some things like small screws for example were not possible on machines and required humans to do it. A cellphone is much smaller and more delicate to assemble though so I could see that being possible vs a bulky console.
 

Hendrick's

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It's nice to see the move to automation to combat the Chinese stranglehold on global manufacturing. That said, it will take some time and a whole lot of capital equipment investment, before they can pull the bulk of manufacturing out of China.
 
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The Fartist

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The NeoGeo had "made in Japan", and a unique number for each system, so you knew exactly when it was made.

There is even a website for looking up the history of any system and to contact folk who own the console made before and after yours on the production line.

Makes each system feel special
Wut? That's fucking cool.
 
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Investor9872

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Remember the days when "Made in Japan" products like the Sony TVs and Walkmans were revered for their reliability? Not anymore. I'm glad to see that Sony is heading in the right direction to 1) lessen their reliance on Chinese manufacturing and labor cost, and 2) to improve on Sony's production quality control. But I still don't understand why Sony's engineers made my PS4 Pro so that it sounds like a jet engine taking off when I'm in the game menus, louder than a jet engine in fact!
 

Rolla

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I'm sure Microsoft has a similar set up for XBOX, right?
 
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Rolla

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Not sure if they have any automation factories in America, but it would be cool to see ‘Made in America’ on the Xbox.

I'm not talking about locale more so the automated process of building the console. I doubt it proprietary tech.
 
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DeepEnigma

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I'm not talking about locale more so the automated process of building the console. I doubt it proprietary tech.

It’s not “proprietary tech,” why would you think that? Car manufacturers have been automated for a good portion for quite a while now. Lots of chip/microprocessor makers, food processors, etc, are as well.

If Microsoft doesn’t already have one, I’m sure they’re going to eventually.
 
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Punished Miku

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Not sure if they have any automation factories in America, but it would be cool to see ‘Made in America’ on the Xbox.

If its just robots making it then it might as well be made in outer space. It doesn't even matter what country its made in at that point (which is the only reason it "came back").

There were 2 humans in the factory. Could just say "made by" and put their names on it.
 
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DeepEnigma

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If its just robots making it then it might as well be made in outer space. It doesn't even matter what country its made in at that point (which is the only reason it "came back").

There were 2 humans in the factory. Could just say "made by" and put their names on it.

I get what you are saying, but I still want the CCP to get knocked down a peg or 10 financially.
 

yurqqa

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1 console every 30 seconds means around 1000 in 1 shift. So in 3 shifts without maintenance - maximum 3000 pcs/day.

So, about 1 million per year.

Sony needs 20 factories to replace China manufacturers.
 
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oldergamer

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If it's an automated facility what difference does it make if it's made in Japan or China?
I didn't say anything about china. Being in North america I'd prefer mexico as it would make shipping much easier (and shorter) and have less chance of being held up by stupid trade wars.
 
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deriks

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- tell me again how Skynet was born
- so Sony wanted robots to build PS5, in Japan, then Gundans...
 
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Bo_Hazem

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Remember the days when "Made in Japan" products like the Sony TVs and Walkmans were revered for their reliability? Not anymore. I'm glad to see that Sony is heading in the right direction to 1) lessen their reliance on Chinese manufacturing and labor cost, and 2) to improve on Sony's production quality control. But I still don't understand why Sony's engineers made my PS4 Pro so that it sounds like a jet engine taking off when I'm in the game menus, louder than a jet engine in fact!

That's the problem, inconsistency. My PS4 until I got the pro and gave it to a friend (still silent till today) and my PS4 Pro since 2016 are all silent. Only seen one loud PS4 among more than 100 PS4's I've seen first hand!

With those robots we should expect more quality control and happier consumers, I guess.
 
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