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Can Taiwan win industrial robotics manufacturing automation race?

Production-related activities in smart factories will need to be linked closer with administrative information systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution. Additionally, a broader range of sub-systems from various providers will need to be integrated into smart factories. (See: Various articles on cloud ERP and contract electronics)

The above predictions, plus the exchange of data, communications and manufacturing performance requirements are likely to become more complex for manufacturing and chief operating executives responsible for smart or connected factories, says a report produced late 2014 by investment bank UBS.

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The report also conveys the belief computing or PC-based solutions will be utilized prominently as they become more standardized. Which, as a result, should enable different systems and products from different suppliers or integrators to communicate more effectively with each other.

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Looking at industrial electronics and robotics plus, the connected applications and possibilities with the greater Internet of Things (IoT) and the role IoT-platforms will play in the automated transfer of data and connected factories, if electronics hardware and software of various systems are incompatible, the implementation of the smart factory concept may become even more complex than it is now and, thus, become more costly for embedded systems end users / customers. (See Webinar archives: Future of Computing: Pervasive Computing and the Internet of Things)

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Taiwanese strides in robotics and factory automation

Over the past 18 months, technology companies in Taiwan have been tapping resources to develop automation and robotic systems, or creating plans and roadmaps to expand into these areas.

 

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UBS writes that part of the development process for industrial automation has been collaborative efforts between industrial PC and mechanical components suppliers, while major electronics manufacturing companies are supporting in-house automation and robotics divisions to increase their manufacturing efficiency and lower their production and operating costs.

Although robotics development in Taiwan remains behind countries like Japan and Germany, a 2014 survey by UBS shows Taiwan has a relatively complete robotics supply chain sitting on top of an already well-established electronics and mechanical industry.

Some major Taiwanese companies offering manufacturing printed circuit boards (PCB) and management of contract electronics developing manufacturing automation and robotics systems and components include:

Hiwin / Symtek Automation Asia: In Q314 the two companies collaborated and launched six axis robotics used in PCB manufacturing, helping manufacturers save space and labor costs.

Foxconn (Hon Hai): In November 2014, invested in Hon Qing Machinery located in AnQing City (Anhui Province, China) to develop and manufacture CNC machines and robotics.

Delta Electronics: Demonstrated own developed a selective compliance assembly robot arm’ (SCARA) using its visual recognition system during the China Industrial International Fair November of 2014.

Cheng Uei Precision Industry: After obtaining robotics technical know-how from Taiwan ITRI, the Company installed 35 robotic arms in Donguan, China.

 

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Robotics manufacturing advantage?

Analysts at UBS feel Taiwanese vendors could have a long-term advantage supplying robotics to the electronics manufacturing sector. One noteworthy fact supporting this thinking is Taiwanese companies rank among the world’s largest manufacturers of electronics goods. For example, Foxconn, Pegatron and Wistron manufacture all iPhones, while Taiwanese manufacturers also manufacture 80% of the world’s laptops and notebook PCs.

These high market shares for these particular electronics products combined with the concentrations in electronics by Taiwanese companies also brings other advantages.

For one, some factory automation robotics developers are also users.

Such will be the case with companies like Foxconn, Delta and Cheng Uei who have announced intentions to develop robotics for internal use and, may also look to sell robotics externally in the long run.

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Will we see electronics services companies like Jabil, Sanmina, Plexus or Celestica purchasing robotics from Foxconn much like in 2000 when competing contract electronics manufacturing firms continued to purchase printed circuit boards from Sanmina (then called Sanmina-SCI) following Sanmina-SCI’s $1.3 billion acquisition of PCB producer Hadco?

Nonetheless, the general thinking regarding Taiwanese industrial electronics computing companies is these companies have gained vast experience in robotics after using automation equipment in their factories for many years. Thus, another advantage for the Taiwanese robotics industry in the long run.




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