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Yaskawa Electric: Leader in factory equipment protocol

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Yaskawa Electric Corp. is the developer of Mechatrolink, a communication platform used in industrial automation that was certified by the International Electrotechnical Commission, or IEC, this summer.

Communication platforms, or protocols such as Mechatrolink, are used in computerized management of equipment in a wide variety of factories. The standardization of protocols is important because, otherwise, factory equipment makers would have to produce different equipment to be compatible with different protocols.

Yaskawa Electric began using the term Mechatrolink in late 1990s, Corporate Senior Vice President Hiroshi Ogasawara said.

Prior to that, factories used analog communication between factory equipment and the computers managing the equipment. However, as the equipment and computers’ functionality improved, one computer became able to manage many pieces of equipment, requiring cumbersome cabling and causing other problems. To solve these issues, digitizing the communications platform was necessary.

Equipment makers around the world began realizing the need for a digital communication platform around the late 1990s, Ogasawara said.

Yaskawa Electric made the Mechatrolink specifications available to the public in 2003, effectively making it an open protocol available to anybody in the world.

The company began lobbying to have Mechatrolink certified by the IEC three or four years before it finally received certification. The protocol underwent strict scrutiny in IEC technical committees before certification.

Mechatrolink commands a 20 to 30 percent global market share in factory equipment management protocol, Ogasawara said.

Meanwhile, Mechatrolink’s strength is speed, being specially designed for machines that move at high speeds, he said.

Ogasawara also stressed that Mechatrolink has a reputation of reliability in noise resistance and other areas. Mechatrolink retries automatically when an error caused by noise occurs, he said.

There are two versions of Mechatrolink currently commercially available, with Mechatrolink-II having a top speed of up to 10 Mbps and Mechatrolink-III being able to handle up to 100 Mbps.

Yaskawa Electric and other companies are together developing Mechatrolink-IV, which they hope to launch in a few years, with a speed of 1 Gbps per second.

“Speed is all that matters in communication. Therefore, we will continue to try to make it faster,” he said. “We will never be perfect, but we have to continuously try.”

Ogasawara also said his company would like to expand Mechatrolink’s market share, but he is aware it is difficult for the protocol to dominate the market because there are so many different kinds of factory equipment and levels of speed required.

“If the speed is high, the price is high. The world is full of many different kinds of equipment. After all, customers choose equipment based on user friendliness and cost in addition to communication speed,” he said.

There are about 2,000 member companies in the Mechatrolink Members Association, of which about 100 actually make products using Mechatrolink, he said.

Mechartrolink is used in many kinds of machines, such as robots and mounting equipment, which are used in many kinds of factories.

The Mechatrolink Members Association’s headquarters are in Yaskawa Electric’s office in Iruma, Saitama Prefecture and the association has seven offices outside Japan, one each in the U.S., Germany, South Korea, India and Taiwan, and two — in Shenyang and Shanghai — in China.

 


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