“As advancements in technology accelerate, the use of robots for applications that could not be realised in the past is becoming a reality”

Rise of the robots

Robotics helps companies to be more efficient than ever, even in difficult times


JULY 2021 Industry Perspectives / Text by Toby Waters

The increased use of robotics has been a revolution in warehouses and workplaces across Japan. It is something that has helped firms in the country to deal with some of the challenges posed by the pandemic. As workers were required to socially distance or take leave from work, robotics companies proved that they are in a good position to help businesses to cope with significant threats and still maintain productivity. As one of the few growth markets to emerge from 2020, what comes next for robotics?

Automation advantages

With manufacturing being increasingly automated, the flexibility to buy and install as much or as little equipment as you need is a help to many businesses. This is part of KEBA’s service, notes representative director Masakazu Murakami.

“KEBA offers robotic controllers, teaching pendants, servo drives, motors, and software tools as individual electric components or full turn-key solutions,” he says. “Our products allow our clients in the robot manufacturing space to save money and time as they develop their industrial robots.”

It is also vital that employee training, software updates, and other support continues throughout a robotic system’s lifespan. That is what KUKA provides.

“KUKA offers industrial robots, collaboration robots, and other equipment that robots need in order to operate, such as linear guides,” says CEO Hiroshi Ota. “We also provide technical services, such as robot operations training, feasibility tests, offline simulation, and installation support. We also offer maintenance services to keep production line systems up to date.”

Even industries in niche markets, such as eggs, can enjoy the benefits that modern robotics can provide, says Moba Japan’s general manager, Nobuya Kajiwara.

“Moba is a total solution provider for the egg industry. We offer all the necessary equipment for grading, packing, and processing of eggs along the entire production line,” he says. “This includes (de-)palletising and case-packing robots, egg graders, farmpackers, breakers, and other processing products, including management software.”

Problems solved

Across the developed world, ageing populations are testing the ability of businesses to source talent — and nowhere is this more apparent than in Japan. Luckily, automation and robotics are the ideal solutions to these issues, says Shuichiro Nakajima, ABB Japan’s president and representative director, and local business area manager of robotics and discrete automation business area.

“In Japan, the shrinking labour force presents numerous challenges. There is also an increasing need for high-mix, low-volume production, providing product personalisation to satisfy various requirements,” he explains. “Robots are the best solution to meet these needs, while also improving productivity and quality. And they allow workers to focus instead on more creative tasks, which can have a beneficial effect on recruitment.”

Kajiwara believes that these benefits extend to the egg packing industry, as well.

“The egg business is all about maximising yield, and this can be best achieved through robotics,” he says. “With scarcity in the labour market for qualified employees, the gentle handling of eggs by our robotics systems ensures that all output is of the best possible quality.”

The future of robotics

The developments in the area of robotics have made the industry more efficient than ever — but the best is yet to come, KEBA’s Murakami predicts.

“As advancements in technology accelerate, the use of robots for applications that could not be realised in the past is becoming a reality. KEBA is developing novel solutions by using artificial intelligence and 5G technology so that the robotics products our clients create can have greater functionality, and help them to break into other market segments.

Nakajima agrees, as he outlines ABB’s plans for the coming years.

“In February 2021, we launched two next-generation cobots, or collaborative robots: GoFa and SWIFTI. They offer superior performance and innovative safety systems compared to existing cobot competitors. This means that they can attain a higher degree of automation,” he says. “We will be actively introducing these to the domestic market to continue contributing to manufacturing innovation.”

KUKA has similarly created a strategy to improve its services over the next decade.

“KUKA announced its Mission 2030 initiative in April. It aims to support and accelerate automation by introducing flexible, data-driven solutions,” Ota says. “Our goal is not only to improve the experience of automation for those who are already proficient, but also to allow those inexperienced with automation to benefit from intuitive and simple automation solutions.”

However, no matter how advanced your hardware and software becomes, it is important not to lose sight of your central mission.

“Moba’s Autopack software modules do not simply automate a single process. We create flexible software to optimise different packing processes and ensure traceability along the entire production chain,” says Kajiwara. “Above all, food safety is our top priority.”

For businesses to succeed in tomorrow’s marketplace, robotic solutions will soon stop being a luxury, and become a necessity.