BEIJING -- Japanese machine tool makers are battling for attention in areas such as integrating robots with the internet of things at the 15th China International Machine Tool Show, which kicked off on Monday in Beijing.
Yoshiharu Inaba, chairman and CEO of industrial robot maker Fanuc, recently spoke with The Nikkei about China's surging demand for robots and how the company plans to meet it.
Q: China is the world's largest machine tool market. What is going on there?
A: Robot demand is surging in China, due to growing automation needs resulting from rising labor costs. We are increasing output, but cannot keep up with demand. Maybe we should have increased production one year earlier.
Our orders have improved quickly. I don't know how long this will last, but many expect the favorable situation will last at least until summer.
As for cars, there is strong demand for electric vehicles and greener trucks. Machine tools for infrastructure, such as railways, are also in high demand, as are [those for] semiconductor manufacturing equipment.
Q: Manufacturers are focusing on products related to the internet of things. How do you see this area developing?
A: The internet of things may spread more quickly in emerging markets, as things will start from scratch there. In Japan and other developed countries with [existing] equipment, on the other hand, it takes time to shift to new technology. The spread of mobile phones took time in developed countries because there were fixed-line phones.
I think the internet of things will also spread quickly in emerging markets, as smartphones did.
Q: What is Fanuc's strategy for emerging markets?
A: First, we will start by connecting machines. In China and other emerging markets, it is important to connect machines at many large plants to visualize how they operate.
In industrialized areas such as Japan, Europe and the U.S., numerical control units and robots have been developed for professionals. In emerging markets, however, easy-to-use equipment is preferred because there are not so many engineers.
Today, machine tools that can be operated by anyone at the touch of a button are needed -- like digital cameras, which allow people to take a beautiful picture easily.
Interviewed by Nikkei staff writer Yuri Masuda