Gov’t, Samsung put focus on industrial robots

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Gov’t, Samsung put focus on industrial robots

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The government and Samsung Electronics joined hands to develop more affordable, home-grown industrial robots to boost productivity in Korea’s small and midsize manufacturers.

According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy on Monday, the ministry and Samsung decided to invest some 16.75 billion won ($14.89 million) over the next three years towards research and development projects that develop robot parts and software.

The ministry will begin its funding at the end of this year, while Samsung will provide technology consulting, quality check and marketability tests before commercialization. The nation’s largest electronics company will share market information with robot manufacturers about the specific robots that local manufacturers need.

“Samsung is one of the conglomerates that has a high demand for industrial robots and advanced robot technologies,” said Lee Heon-du, an official at the Industry Ministry. “The company used to produce industrial robots in the past and is known to be developing in-house robots, as significant numbers of its production lines are already automated.”

The project will develop key parts of industrial robots that produce and assemble small gadgets like smartphones, tablet PCs, cameras and other small IT accessories and home appliances.

Nowadays, industrial robots of that kind are normally priced from $20,000 to $40,000.

The government is trying to pull down the price by 30 percent in order to widen small and midsize manufacturers’ access to robots and transform their factories into so-called smart factories, and eventually boost their products’ competitiveness by reducing personnel costs.

Beyond serving local manufacturers’ needs, the government hopes that the Samsung project will help Korean industrial robots sell overseas.

So far, industrial robots have mostly been used in automobile, semiconductor and display factories worldwide, mostly in welding, loading and parts assembly processes. Recently, the need for robots is on rise in metal, plastic, chemical and food and drinks manufacturing processes.

However, mobile phone and home appliance factories in China and Southeast Asia still rely on humans when it comes to precision assembly of small parts because robots are generally not good at precision work.

“Key parts of these industrial robots, like decelerators, motors, controllers and encoders are so expensive that their prices account for more than half of the robot’s price,” Lee said. “If these parts get cheaper, Korean industrial robots could gain price competitiveness against foreign industrial robotics leaders like Japan’s Yaskawa and ABB of Switzerland.”

Globally, manufacturers are known to use industrial robots for about 10 percent of total production this year, according to the Boston Consulting Group in February. The firm expects the use of robots to reach 25 percent of total production processes in 2025.

BY KIM JI-YOON [kim.jiyoon@joongang.co.kr]

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