23 Jul 2024


Yaskawa sets up robot JVs with Chinese appliance-maker

The Japanese robotics and motion controls manufacturer, Yaskawa, is setting up two joint ventures with the Chinese domestic appliances giant, Midea, to produce robots in China. The partners plan to invest a total of 400m yuan ($63m) in the ventures, one of which will produce industrial robots, the other service robots.

Yaskawa will have the majority stake (51%) in the industrial robots business, while Midea will have the majority stake (60.1%) in the service robots operation.

Midea plans to use the robots in its own manufacturing operations as well as selling them to external customers.

As Chinese wages increase and its population gets older, China is turning increasingly to robots to help improve its production efficiency. It is already the world’s biggest market for industrial robots, with 56,000 sold in 2014. The International Federation of Robotics (IRF) expects the number of robots in use by Chinese industry to more than double by 2017, by when it will have the largest installed base in the world – predicted to be around 428,000.

As well as producing domestic appliances, Midea is China’s largest manufacturer of HVAC systems. The company, founded in 1968, employs more than 120,000 people and its global turnover in 2014 was $23bn. By adopting more automation, it expects the workforce to drop to 100,000 by the time its turnover reaches $32bn.

In its residential air-conditioning (RAC) business, for example, it expects to spend more than $800m on automation over the coming five years, compared to $160m from 2012–2014. Ten years ago, the RAC factory employed 2,800 people. By the end of 2015, it will be down to 900, and within three years the workforce will be just 450.

“It won’t be so much a case of mass layoffs, as recruiting fewer people,” explains Wu Shoubao, vice-president of manufacturing in the RAC business. “Moreover, the people we recruit will have at least a Bachelor’s degree, as we need skilled workers to control the robots.”

Yaskawa already has two robot manufacturing plants in China and is planning to double its output there to 600 robots per month (about a quarter of its Japanese robot output). Globally, robotics represented 38% of its 101m yen ($810m) sales in the first quarter of 2015 – up from 34% the previous year. Its largest business remains motion controls, which accounted for 48% of its first-quarter sales in both 2014 and 2015.