We learnt that even the painting and inspection work, which skilled workers seem to do casually, is being carried out with a firm focus and precise gaze patterns. I was able to understand and explain the tips and tricks that the experts themselves had not been able to verbalize. In the past, the educator did not know how to teach it, but when I showed him the line of sight and videos of eye tracking, even non-experts were able to understand it immediately.Mr. Katsuhiro Inao, section chief in the iron pipe manufacturing section
How Kubota cut training time in half and improved digital transformation
Kubota Corporation was founded in 1890 and has since become a leading manufacturer of a wide range of products related to food, water, and the environment. Its technology is used in over 80% of advanced water purification facilities in Japan that provide safe, drinkable tap water. As the top agricultural machinery manufacturer in Japan, Kubota tractors support food production on farms around the world.
By utilizing eye tracking technology, Kubota’s Keiyo Plant has been able to shorten the technical training period for new workers from six months to three months. In addition to improving training efficiency, this technology is being used as part of Kubota’s digital transformation strategy, with the DX planning and promotion department planning horizontal expansion to overseas factories.
The trouble with training
The Kubota Keiyo Plant specializes in the manufacture of ductile iron pipes, which are primarily used for the transportation of water. A reliable water supply is crucial for the wellbeing and development of any country. To support this vital infrastructure, the Kubota Keiyo Plant is continually working to improve and maintain it.
In order to enhance productivity, the plant has been adjusting its production items. Additionally, some employees have been reallocated to other departments and plants, and it has become increasingly essential to provide effective technical training at the manufacturing site. The plant’s main challenge was providing effective technical training for the newly assigned workers.
Visualizing key skills
Kubota began evaluating various technologies, including Tobii eye tracking, and decided to try demonstration machines from three companies to test on-site. After repeated testing, it was determined that eye tracking, which allows skilled work to be visualized through gaze measurement and video, was the most suitable technology. Tobii's eye tracker was introduced at the end of 2021.
One of the processes in which the eye tracker was used is in the application of the anti-rust coating and the inspection process, known as the "third shipping line," which requires expert skills. This process involves visually inspecting painted areas, painting the inside of pipes, and simultaneously visually inspecting the fitting grooves for proper machine coating. By analyzing this complex task using eye tracking, it was found that experts stand at an angle to the pipes to inspect painted areas more easily, and their gaze is accurately directed at the inspection areas while painting. In contrast, the gaze of non-experts did not properly encompass the entire inspection area.
Cutting training times
The use of eye tracking technology has resulted in a significant reduction in the technical training period for reallocated staff at the Kubota Keiyo Plant. Previously, it took about six months for similar staff to become independent, but with the implementation of eye tracking, this period has been shortened to three months.
Experts often perform this work unconsciously, making it difficult to verbalize and teach. However, by providing gaze measurements and videos using eye tracking, even unskilled workers can better understand the craftsmanship of skilled workers. This has facilitated a much faster transfer of skills.
Facilitating digital transformation
The Kubota DX planning and promotion department holds an annual event called the ICT Forum to present case studies internally. Last year, with the help of Tobii, they presented a case study on eye tracking. This has led to the implementation of eye tracking at various factories within the company.
The DX planning and promotion department is continuing to collect gaze data and is working to include it in standard documents. They also plan to use this accumulated data to automate the manufacturing process fully. Kubota also intends to analyze the gaze of experienced forklift operators to standardize expert skills, improving efficiency and safety.
The department believes that eye tracking data can be used for more than manufacturing and within product design and development as well. For example, when conducting user surveys on a new tractor model, it can be hard to understand comments such as "the ride comfort is good or bad” just by hearing them. By analyzing data from all five senses, including gaze measurement, the DX planning and promotion department believes it can get a better understanding of users’ true needs.
Kubota’s plan for eye tracking
In response to the study, Mr. Yoshihiro Inao, section chief in the iron pipe manufacturing section, had this to say:
Additionally, Mr. Shunsuke Tanimoto from the DX planning and promotion department has big plans for eye tracking going forward, saying:
In the future, we’d like to expand the use of eye tracking not only in the manufacturing department but also in the development department. We want to use it as foundational data for the full automation of the production line. We also hope to actively introduce the benefits of eye tracking to our overseas factories.Mr. Shunsuke Tanimoto, DX planning and promotion department
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