March 24, 2014 1:56 am JST

Rise of the robot-building robots

A Nachi-Fujikoshi plant in Toyama Prefecture will need less of the human touch.

TOKYO -- Hoping to improve quality, Japanese manufacturers Nachi-Fujikoshi and Yaskawa Electric are entrusting more of their robot production to robots themselves.

     Nachi-Fujikoshi will deploy a system using three of the company's own articulated robots on a production line for small articulated robots at a Toyama Prefecture plant. The automated trio will handle such tasks as screw-turning and transport.

     The system is expected to halve the number of workers while maintaining a monthly output capacity of 200 units. Wiring and other work made to customers' specifications will still rely on humans, but 70% of the overall process will be handled by robots. Nachi-Fujikoshi plans to introduce a similar system at a plant in China's Jiangsu Province by summer.

     Last fall, Yaskawa Electric doubled to around 20 the number of robots used on a small-robot production line at its headquarters plant in Fukuoka Prefecture. Now roughly 70% of the overall work is automated, up from less than 20%, and human workers have been slashed 80%. The company also employs robots at a Jiangsu Province plant where about 30% of assembly work is automated.

     Seeking to meet growing demand for industrial robots in China, Nachi-Fujikoshi and Yaskawa Electric began production there last year. They seek to transplant robot-using know-how honed in Japan to Chinese factories so that quality is the same in both countries.