TOKYO -- China's voracious appetite for machinery extends beyond industrial robots to encompass machine tools and construction equipment, though the long-term prospects for this demand appear to vary by sector.
Japanese shipments of building equipment to China skyrocketed 270% on the year in April as public works construction soars in that country ahead of the National Congress of the Communist Party in the fall. But skeptical Japanese construction machinery companies suspect the trend may be short-lived.
"Demand for fall and beyond is uncertain," Komatsu President Tetsuji Ohashi said.
Meanwhile, machine tool builders likely will enjoy robust demand for a while. As Chinese manufacturers produce more advanced products, demand is rising for high-performance Japanese machine tools, said Katsushi Saito, head of equity research at Nomura Securities.
Orders rose 24.4% on the year in May for a sixth straight month of gains, according to preliminary figures released by the Japan Machine Tool Builders' Association. The machine tools support the upheaval in Chinese manufacturing, which previously focused on cheap labor to make large quantities of products.
Industrial robots also are supporting long-term changes in the Chinese economy. "Demand for robots is climbing due to difficulty securing workers," Yaskawa Electric President Hiroshi Ogasawara said. Robots help ensure speed and safety amid a shortage of seasoned employees.
Global industrial robot sales rose 12% in 2015 to 248,000 units, the International Federation of Robotics says, and this third consecutive annual record was propelled by rising demand not only in the West but also in China.