Rising labor costs, manpower shortages drive Nidec to AI

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by Yanitha
Category:   News

Japanese electric motor maker revs up automation to cut down staffing needs.

Nidec is transforming its Asian operations with highly automated smart factories. The company plans to sell its factory-automation systems to other manufacturers in the future. (Photo by Hiromasa Matsuura)

Turning to automation to offset manpower shortages and rising labor costs is nothing new. But precision electric motor maker Nidec is going at it full speed.

The Japanese company is increasingly relying on smart manufacturing — processes that utilize robotics, artificial intelligence and other automation technologies — to power its Asian production bases. This shift toward automation has dramatically reduced its factory workforce in the region, from some 80,000 at the end of March 2017 to 48,000 at the end of June.

This amounts to about a 25% reduction in the workforce over an incredibly short period of time, a rarity for a Japanese company. At the end of fiscal 2017 in March, the size of Nidec’s workforce stood at roughly 132,000, with about 107,000 employees on a consolidated basis and an annual average of some 25,000 temporary workers.

Homegrown technology

Nidec started its push for Asian automation at the beginning of fiscal 2015, targeting several facilities in China, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand.

The change to smart factories has seen the company adopt a number of innovative technologies, among them a self-driving delivery cart for ferrying components, materials and equipment. There is also a six-axis robot for assembling very small parts, and a machine-vision system for visually inspecting final products.

The company’s latest self-driving cart is a wonder of automation, equipped with a laser to recognize its environment. The cart stops if it detects something in its path, and can ride elevators unattended.

Much of Nidec’s automation was self-developed by leveraging the synergies and technological capabilities of its group companies. For example, the self-driving cart was created by Nidec-Shimpo, a manufacturer of power transmission equipment. Nidec Sankyo, a maker of LCD panel handling robots, created the multi-joint robot. The group’s supplier of electronic components used in optical equipment, Nidec Copal, developed the machine-vision system.

Driven to downsize

According to Akira Sato, the company’s executive vice president and chief financial officer,”rising labor costs and a shortage of factory workers in Asia” have prompted the company to transform its factories in the region into smart factories.



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