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The Digital Story Behind Your Next Bowl of Ramen

Feature Article | October 26, 2017 by Robin Meyerhoff

Estimates for the number of ramen restaurants in Tokyo range from 6,000 to 10,000. There seems to be at least one ramen shop (as they are referred to locally) on every block. Even the ubiquitous convenience stores have whole aisles dedicated to different varieties of instant ramen.

Although ramen only came to Japan from China around 1900, it is now integral to Japanese culture. It’s revered and enshrined in ramen museums, ramen video games and of course, the cult film Tampopo, centered around a ramen shop.

Ohtake Noodle Machine is a family-run company that designs and manufactures noodle-making machines. With headquarters in Tokyo, the company factory is in Yonezawa, Japan, located 200 miles north east of Tokyo. Founded in 1880, Ohtake now builds machines that are sold to food manufacturers all over the world. Their noodle machines are custom built and used by a range of businesses from small, local ramen shops to industrial producers of packaged noodles.

CEO Tomohiko Ohtake, wants to leverage the latest technologies – like Internet of Things, analytics and cloud computing – to help customers. He said, “We need to have digital technology to stabilize the quality of noodle production. A real-time solution can help customers deal with issues ranging from raw material to facilities. Now with new technology, we can integrate all those local processes to get a better result.”

That’s why Ohtake turned to ABeam Consulting, a business and IT professional services firm, that helps companies digitalize their entire value chain versus specific business process. Together they have created an innovation roadmap to help Ohtake change from a traditional, manufacturing company into a digitally-powered one.

Manufacturing noodles is very complex: it involves grinding up wheat into flour, making dough, pressing it into sheets, and cutting it into noodles. Then ramen must be dried or fried, weighed and packaged. If something goes askew, less noodles are produced, packaged and delivered to consumers.

At each point of those mechanized processes, sensors embedded in the noodle machines (which can be the length of a factory floor) collect data about how the full process is performing.

That’s where digital technology comes in. Ohtake wants to gather and analyze information generated by the sensors and analyze it in real-time. They believe this could help their customers improve the quality and consistency of noodles they manufacture in real-time. Since some machines create 1000 portions per minute, catching and acting on issues immediately is critical.

Itomen is one such customer, located 500 miles west of Ohtake. Started after the second world war, Itomen creates packaged ramen noodles for Japan and other Asian countries. They were the second company to begin creating packaged ramen, which by the 1960s had become a national craze.

Mitsuhiro Ito is the CEO of Itomen. He had been reading about digital technologies like IoT and began thinking about its relevance to his company. Through conversation with Ohtake, he identified an important use case.

“For small and medium companies, especially in rural area, it is not easy for equipment repairmen to come. That impacts business continuity. Doing equipment maintenance requires a close relationship between equipment manufacturer and user company. Both companies have to take a part.”

He explained, “In the past, if the machine malfunctioned we described the noise of the machine on the phone. Then smartphone became available for taking movies, allowing us to share the situation and remotely handle the problem.”

Mitsuhiro said, “But with IoT technology and a better understanding of machine data, we can see what’s happening on the production line and communicate in real-time with machine makers like Ohtake to fix problems virtually. Our expectation is that by working together with equipment manufacturers with the data that’s been collected, it will be like having a technician at site.”

To bring this scenario and others to life, ABeam has created a blueprint for Ohtake that brings together IoT, cloud and analytics technology. A long-time partner for SAP, ABeam is particularly excited about the SAP Leonardo digital innovation system.

Hiroyuki Aitani, executive officer principal, Manufacturing and Consumer Business at ABeam, says, “Japanese manufacturers like Ohtake can use IoT, cloud technology and advanced analytics to build more intelligent IT systems — and ultimately serve their customers better.”

“SAP Leonardo helps our joint customers to innovate their business models and find new opportunities,” he says.

Moreover, SAP Leonardo can help Ohtake meet some grander goals. Tomohiko explains, “Because of global warming, we need to consider using more rice in the future. Rice can support more of the world’s populations. But it is also more difficult to use rice than wheat flour in noodle production.”

With technologies like SAP Leonardo in place – and strong partners like ABeam – Ohtake is well positioned to take noodle making digital and support its long-term vision to feed the world sustainably.

Image via screenshot

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