When Tadao Yoshida, founder of YKK, was a boy, he was influenced by reading a biography of Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie’s beliefs in giving back to help others inspired YKK’s own corporate philosophy, the “Cycle of Goodness,” believing that “no one prospers without giving benefit to others.”
Now, decades later, the influence of Carnegie is still evident in YKK’s operations. This time, the Japanese manufacturer has partnered with Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh. The team’s efforts focus on research and development in emerging technologies that will lead to safer and more efficient jobsites for fenestration installations.
The company celebrated opening its newly designed research and development center in Pittsburgh on July 10. The 7,576-square-foot facility is located on the third floor of Mill 19 Building A and was built within an original steel mill structure. The development of a “virtual factory” will create enhanced efficiencies in the production and installation of YKK AP Inc.’s fenestration products. It will also contribute to the company’s improved logistics and global management systems.
According to CMU professor Kenji Shimada, the university’s partnership with YKK began about four years ago to focus on areas such as robotics, artificial intelligence and information technology. Core issues behind much of the research include addressing worker shortages, creating safer jobsites and improving the quality of installations.
Shimada notes that more than 50 students and researchers are involved with the projects. He adds that YKK employees are also working side-by-side as “visiting scholars.”
The official opening included several demonstrations of the team’s research, which is working to develop ways that technology can solve key issues in the industry. Demos included a safety alert system, robotic inspection, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and ground vehicles (UGV) for site inspections.
The activity tracking demo, for example, involved technology that could identify hazards on a jobsite. If workers step on a site without a hard hat or try to move a ladder without a second person to assist, alerts will sound. Alerts also sound when one individual attempts to move or lift a heavy window, which requires two people.
In the second demo, attendees met Spot, an agile, mobile robot that resembles a dog. Spot is used for quality assurance on a jobsite in this research project. It can detect issues in the window framing and collect images showing what needs to be improved.
The third demo involved the use of UGVs and UAVs for site inspection. Both devices demonstrated how they can detect obstructions or issues on the jobsite. UAVs, or drones, can also be used for window inspections.
“Our goal as an organization is to improve construction productivity and quality through the research and development of virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality technologies,” says Shiori Fukada, chief digital officer of YKK AP Inc. “The advent of new technologies presents an opportunity for true innovation and the ability to fill crucial gaps presented by the ongoing skilled labor shortage.”
According to Hidemitsu Hori, chair of YKK AP Inc., the need for much of this research stems from the fact that Japan has a serious lack of labor, and in some areas, the workforce is getting older.
“So, we see in the very near future … that the labor shortage will be more and more serious. That’s why we needed to take action,” he says.
Hori notes that the current project completion is expected sometime next year. There are plans for future projects that will continue to focus on detailed management of the data they capture through research. He adds that the mission of the technology lab is not only for YKK but for the technology to be used in Japan, the U.S. and other countries.
“This will be just a starting point,” he says.