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ROBOTOTECHNICAL WONDER: SOUTH KOREA’S PATH TO THE TOP IN PRODUCITON AUTOMATION

10 November 2017
ROBOTOTECHNICAL WONDER: SOUTH KOREA’S PATH TO THE TOP IN PRODUCITON AUTOMATION

We can already label the 2010s as the decade of industrial robotics in the global industry. Experts of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) point out that between 2005 and 2008 manufacturers were selling approximately 115,000 robots annually. After the 2009 recession, industrialists were more eager to invest in automation and innovations, so the average number of robots sold annually between 2011 and 2016 increased by a dramatic 84% and reached 212,000 units. 

According to IFR analysts, this number will keep growing in the near future. They expect over 520,000 robots to be sold in 2020 and more than 1.7M new industrial models to be manufactured and implemented in production between 2017 and 2020. Overall, over 3 million robots will be operating worldwide by 2021. 

IFR forecast on the increase in operational robot stock worldwide

According to 2016 data, there were 74 industrial robots per every 10,000 industrial workers worldwide. South Korea led the way with over 500 robots per every 10,000 employees. The highest number of robots – 2000 – were working in Korean mechanical engineering. 

“Such vigorous increase in the segment could result from the implementation of major projects targeting the production of batteries for hybrid vehicles and electrocars,” IFR report points out. 

According to Alisa Konyukhovskaya, Vice-President of the Russian Association of Robotics (RAR), South Korea is rapidly increasing not only the number of robots in operation, but also stepping up its production. In 2016, the country put into service approximately 41,000 robots (the total number of operational robots in Korea amounts to 246,000), 36,400 of them manufactured locally. Moreover, South Korea exported about 7000 robots. 

“Several years ago, the country introduced a special program seeking to support this segment, and it made a difference. In 2013, Korea manufactured approximately 15,900 units, and in 2014 the number increased to 26,800 units. Moreover, the authorities allocated about $50M to promote robotics, and industry associations are working to increase market volume,” Konyukhovskaya shared.

High robot application density stems from technological development in the mechanical engineering segment and electronic technologies. “The use of robots allows for higher production efficiency and capacity, cost reduction, and better product competitiveness,” RAR Vice-President points out.

 


LEGISLATED FIVE-YEAR PLAN

Not so long ago, the East Asian country was lagging in this segment. 2000s made it clear that South Korea’s economic wonder (its rapid economic growth in 1960s-1980s – Editor’s Note) was a thing of the past, hence the need to develop new industrial sectors.
“In 2005, the South Korean authorities perceived the need to focus on robotics, or else the country would regress in its economic development. In 2008, the government passed a law on the development and promotion of smart robots in order to boost production and regulate sectoral financing,” Andrey Neznamov, Head of the Research Center for Problems of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Regulation, stated.

Under the law, a new five-year plan for robotics development is approved every five years. The last plan was adopted in November 2016. The Korea Association of Robot Industry (KAR) serves as project operator. Public programadministration and industry support proved effective within the first several years since the introduction of the program: production output increased by 79%. The adoption of the robot law resulted in the national economic growth of $4bn.


According to KAR Manager Sangdok Yim (video of his INNOPROM-2017 presentation is available online), the majority of companies working in this sector are small and medium businesses. Large corporations operating in the heavy industry and electronics segment (including Samsung) are only contemplating the possibility of launching their own robot production.

KAR Manager Sangdok Yim (center) / 
Photo: INNOPROM Press Center

“The Korean government plans to expand the production of robots and their application at small and medium enterprises. $500M will be allocated for that purpose. First, we will focus on R&D. The government believes that the level of robotics in Korea is still low compared with other leaders, such as the U.S., Germany, and Japan,” Sangdok Yim shared.
According to the road map of the Republic of Korea, until 2020 the industry will target the development of production components: sensors, transmitters, intellectual products, and smart manufacturing.


ROBOT TAX

Fast pace of production automation led to pointed public discussion in South Korea: influential experts believe that the spike in robotization will result in a sharp increase in unemployment. In order to prevent the problem, the Korean government is seriously considering the introduction of first of its kind robot tax. 

Legislative authorities intend to revoke some tax cuts for businesses. At the moment, companies which invest in industrial automation qualify for a corporate tax cut, i.e. tax rate reduction of 3 -7%. Special tax benefits were introduced as a way to support enterprises which invest into infrastructure and, therefore, boost efficiency. 

At the moment, South Korean Government is discussing the possibility of reducing tax cuts by 2% in order to slow down robotization and make up for lower tax revenue and rising unemployment. 




The Republic of Korea will serve as INNOPROM-2018 Partner Country. At the exhibition, South Korea will present its innovative projects, showcase investment opportunities, and highlight prospects for technological cooperation. On July 9-12, Russian industrialists will have the opportunity to learn firsthand about efficient technologies produced in the Republic of Korea.

It is not too early to reserve a space for your company stand at INNOPROM-2018. Submit the application and become an exhibitor of the Main International Industrial Trade Fair in Russia.




GERMINATION STAGE

In Russia, industrial robot market "is virtually non-existent," according to Vitaly Nedelskiy, President of the Russian Association of Robotics. Russian industrialists annually acquire no more than 500 models worth approximately RUB 1bn and spend another 3bn on installation. 

"There are no companies that specialize in robot manufacturing in Russia, and the process of production localization is just starting. On the other hand, Russia has about 60 organizations working on robot integration. We could say that the Russian industry is currently at the germination stage," Nedelskiy added.

He believes that if the authorities create state support mechanisms, and the government, state corporations, and private businesses join their efforts in order to develop the market, Russian companies could increase their robot acquisitions to 5000-7000 units per annum. 

By the way, fully automated lines are already operating at some Russian enterprises, most of them in mechanical engineering. Robots are gradually replacing people. But the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation states that there is no need to worry about higher unemployment rates. According to Mikhail Ivanov, Director of the Machine-Tool Building and Investment Machine Building Department of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation, robotization will not bring job cuts, but will change the nature of employee operations. 

"In the 1990s, the U.S. experienced an ATM boom. At the time, various experts predicted that it would result in dramatic reduction in the number of bank employees. But data show that as the banking system evolved, the number of staff positions increased by 30,000. I think that robotics will be developing in an evolutionary gradual manner, so we will not experience major imbalances," Ivanov pointed out.

Representatives of the Machine-Tool Building and Investment Machine Building Department of the Ministry of Industry and Trade believe that in order to develop its robotics segment, Russia needs to stimulate private demand. 

Presently, the authorities have launched several projects meant to popularize the implementation of robots and robotic technologies by promoting automation and robotization of industrial enterprises through the development of new and adaptation of existing solutions, providing consultations and organizing educational modules for students majoring in robotics. 

Moreover, in order to boost the demand on robotics and automation, the government introduced state support mechanisms, such as the Digital Economy of the Russian Federation program.

"Russia's focus on the digitalization of the national economy allows for the elimination of technological barriers in various industries and lays the foundation for reindustrialization, higher labor efficiency, and the increase in the quality of produced goods, " Ivanov stated.

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