South Korea, Samsung Team Up On £9.6bn Industrial Robot Plan

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Smartphone giant hopes cheaper precision robots will reduce its reliance on increasingly expensive Chinese labour

South Korea’s government is to contribute 16.75 billion won (£9.6bn) of public funds over the next three years to a Samsung-led project aimed at developing the country’s robotics industry and reducing its reliance on imported robot parts and cheap labour in countries such as China.

The plan, announced on Monday, is intended to bring to market mass-produced, six-axis, vertical articulated robots that are cheaper than models currently made in South Korea, for which the country’s robot manufacturers are obliged to import certain precision parts from abroad, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said, according to South Korea’s official Yonhap news agency.

Samsung T1a

Robot labour

Such robots could in turn be used to build factories using a higher proportion of robots in the labour force, which would in turn reduce South Korea’s reliance on cheap labour from abroad, the ministry said. Wages in countries such as China have been rising sharply, putting economic pressure on companies such as Samsung that rely on assembly plants based there.

“Once affordable robots reach the market and are more widely used, it can lead to the creation of ‘smart factories’ and bring about far-reaching innovations to the manufacturing sector,” the ministry said.

The plan will focus on small- and medium-sized robotics companies, according to the report. Samsung, one of the world’s largest producers of memory chips, microprocessors, smartphones and consumer electronics, is to provide product specifications, verify quality, offer consulting and help robot makers bring their products to market.

Precision parts

Samsung and the country’s government are specifically aiming to develop parts including precision speed reducers, motors, controllers and sensor encoders, all of which must currently be imported from outside the country at great expense, according to the ministry.

North-East Asia produces most of the world’s industrial robots, a market worth $10.7bn (£6.9bn) last year, according to the International Federation of Robotics. China was the largest producer, shipping more than 57,000 robots, followed by Japan, with South Korea in fourth place. The United States was the third-largest robot maker.

The Federation estimates that robots currently account for about 10 percent of overall manufacturing, and expects the figure to rise to 20 percent in ten years’ time.

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