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Nidec invests for sevenfold boost in robot parts production

Orders soaring on demand for automation due to labor shortages

Nidec will add equipment to increase production of speed reducers.

OSAKA -- Japanese electric motor manufacturer Nidec plans a sevenfold increase in production capacity for a key part used in industrial robots, as growing demand for those machines due to labor shortages proves a boon for related industries as well.

Nidec will invest 4 billion yen ($36.2 million) in equipment for subsidiary Nidec-Shimpo's factory to increase the production of speed reducers, a core component in robots. Demand for this component is expected to reach 2.72 million units in 2025, roughly double the amount estimated for 2017.

Speed reducers control robotic limbs and give them power. Nidec-Shimpo has been in the industry since 2015, preceded by companies like Harmonic Drive Systems and Nabtesco.

The Nidec subsidiary previously produced 5,000 units monthly. But a flood of inquiries from robot makers drove the manufacturer to raise monthly capacity to 10,000 units in May, with further plans to reach 20,000 units next March and 35,000 as of April 2018.

Yet labor shortages also pose hurdles for Nidec-Shimpo. The company will limit staffing needs by automating the new equipment, including for transport and testing. Productivity and processing speed are both expected to double. Nidec-Shimpo holds a market share of just 5% but aims to reach 30% with the production increase.

Nidec is diversifying its business through acquisitions, expanding from its mainstay of precision motors for hard disk drives to areas such as large motors for home electronic appliances and robots. Nidec-Shimpo also is expanding through acquisitions such as the purchase of a Spanish company.

Other makers of speed reducers are feeling the windfall from rising demand for industrial robots. Sumitomo Heavy Industries improved sales of the component for robots by about 20% in the two years through fiscal 2016.

Sumitomo Heavy's reducer-gear sales total about 100 billion yen, with orders for industrial robots making up around 10%. The company has nearly reached capacity at its manufacturing center in Nagoya and both factories in Germany.

Harmonic Drive Systems received 8.65 billion yen in speed reducer orders for industrial robots in the January-March period, more than double the amount from the previous quarter. The company added production lines and established a two-shift system but cannot match demand. The parts manufacturer also plans to build a new factory in the Nagano Prefecture city of Matsumoto.

(Nikkei)

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