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PlayStation’s secret weapon: an almost fully automated factory



TOKYO – Sony’s PlayStation has won hundreds of millions of fans worldwide since its launch in 1994. But few know exactly how much of the console’s success can be attributed to an unassuming factory located across the bay from Tokyo. (Click here for a graphic-rich version of this article.)

On the outskirts of Kisarazu, a large white building overlies an otherwise suburban landscape. Once inside, visitors are greeted by swirling engines while dozens of robots seamlessly drop PlayStation 4 consoles.

Only a few people were present to handle a handful of tasks ̵

1; two to feed naked motherboards to the line, and two to package the finished consoles.

But the assembly itself is made entirely of guided robots, supplied by Mitsubishi Electric. The 31.4 meter line, completed in 2018, has the ability to roll 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 the video game unit Sony Interactive Entertainment to develop advanced technology for the plant.

One of the plant’s crowning achievements is the use of robots to attach wires, tape and other flexible parts to the brackets. Twenty-six out of 32 robots at the Kisarazu plant are dedicated to the task and handle skilled material most robots would be too fine.

For example, to connect the flexible flat cable – a tap-like electric cord – one robot arm is required to hold the cable and another to twist it. The cable must then be attached in a specific direction with just the right pressure, which may seem simple to a human being but is an extremely complex maneuver for the robot.

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

“There is probably no other site that can manipulate robots this way,” said one engineer. Every process – all the way to final packaging – is automated. The mix of robotic and human work is carefully optimized with a priority on the return on investment.

“I created profitable production lines,” said Hiroyuki Kusakabe, general architect at SGMO.

Robot fingers attach securely to wires and other flexible components. (Photo by Kento Awashima)

The productivity focus 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 creating a gaming system that is easily suitable for mass production.

Goto reportedly shot the engineers at the Kisarazu site to improve productivity. The refined production technology was then transferred to contract manufacturers.

Eight memory chips surround the accelerated processor unit, the heart of PlayStation 4. (Photo by Kento Awashima)

As a console nears the end of its marketable life, the model will inevitably fall victim to declining sales and price competition. The production lines can maintain profitability thanks to continuous improvements.

PlayStation 4, released in November 2013, has sold over 100 million units over its lifetime. Paid subscribers to network services span over 41.5 million people.

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

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

Engineer Ken Kutaragi, called PlayStation’s father, fought the unit despite pushback from other executives. Twenty-five years later, the series has become the poster child for Sony crafts.

But there is no guarantee of future success. Although the PS2 was a hit when it was released in 2000, when the PS3 was released in 2006, it gave up market shares to Microsoft Xbox. Unlike the previous, the next decade at Sony Group depends on how well the PS5 is received when it is expected to hit the shelves during the holidays.




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