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Japan's Nidec to sell factory automation robots

Motor maker will give labor-saving systems a spin at its own plants first

A Nidec carrier robot zips across a factory floor.

OSAKA -- Japanese electronic parts maker Nidec will offer factory-automating robots and systems as soon as this year, targeting domestic manufacturers seeking labor-saving measures amid a worker drought.

The Kyoto-based company, which aims to do away with overtime for its workers by fiscal 2020, will test the productivity-boosting equipment at its own facilities. It hopes for annual sales of around 200 billion yen ($1.81 billion) for the business by that same fiscal year.

The use of the so-called internet of things in factories makes it possible to produce goods without human labor. It also allows for automatically adjusting output volumes to meet demand, and offers domestic manufacturers the possibility of competing on the cost front with cheap labor in the Asia region, even while producing at home in Japan.

Nidec aims to directly sell systems based around factory robots and including linked components such as reducers, sensors and cameras, offering its artificial intelligence technology together with its robotics technology.

Vice Chairman Mikio Katayama, former president of Japan-based Sharp, is central to the development of the new "smart factory" business. Technology made in cooperation with external companies will play a part as well.

Nidec has already begun jointly developing automated carrier machines with a startup based in Ibaraki Prefecture. The two have produced carrier robots that navigate spaces using wireless communication, as well as ones equipped with automatic following functions.

A group company's factory to be built in Vietnam for 55 billion yen presents an opportunity to test the technology. Nidec will gather data in such areas as cost savings and productivity boosts on its own turf before offering its systems to major manufacturing plants.

Precision motors for computer hard-disk drives have been among Nidec's bread-and-butter products, but through acquisitions, it has been shifting toward mid- and large-size motors for industrial and consumer-electronics applications. The company is accelerating a module-based strategy in which it sells motors together with related components, shooting for consolidated sales of 2 trillion yen by fiscal 2020.

Factory automation robots have drawn demand not only from Japanese manufacturers -- who face a labor crunch triggered by a shrinking population and other factors -- but also from overseas companies looking to raise productivity. The global market for next-generation factory automation devices and systems may nearly triple by 2022 to around 6.96 trillion yen from about 2.45 trillion yen in 2017, according to marketing research firm Fuji Keizai.


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