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Industrial robots evolve as Japan's labor shortage worsens

Automated machines to aid quality control, move items on elevators

Nidec-Shimpo's self-guided cart drives into an elevator.

OSAKA -- Japanese manufacturers are speeding up development of industrial robots, chasing the increased demand for factory automation to offset the country's deepening labor shortage.

Nidec-Shimpo, a subsidiary of Nidec, has developed a self-driving cart that can ride elevators between floors. The Kyoto-based company's product wirelessly tells the elevator its target floor and waits to enter the elevator if its lasers detect people stepping off.

Sales will begin this month for a version that carries items weighing 1 ton. Nidec-Shimpo aims to raise sales of self-driving carts to 15 billion yen ($135 million) in fiscal 2020, 10 times as much as in fiscal 2017.

This year, Rohm will sell a system that links devices emitting wireless signals of varying ranges in a factory, making it easier to use "internet of things" technology. Manufacturers simply need to install Rohm's parts and sensors to create a system that collects data from across the factory. This will cost roughly half as much as designing a custom-made system, according to the company.

Omron will develop a quality control system with Sentech, a Japanese camera maker it will acquire in July. Cameras placed on assembly lines or on robot arms themselves will shoot series of high-resolution photographs that are arranged to create 3-D images of products, which robots can then inspect to check quality.

Fanuc will spend about 63 billion yen to build a factory for industrial robots next to its Tsukuba plant in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo. The company eventually aims to produce 11,000 robots monthly, almost double its current output.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries' twin-armed duAro robot, which can work on factory lines alongside people, has reached sales of roughly 2,000 units since going on the market in June 2015.

The global market for factory automation machines and systems is estimated to increase 180% from around 2.45 trillion yen this year to about 6.96 trillion yen in 2022, according to market research firm Fuji Keizai.

(Nikkei)

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