Posted on January 11, 2005

Toyota to Staff Factories with Robots

AFP, January 10, 2005

Toyota Motor will introduce robots that can work as well or better than humans at all 12 of its factories in Japan to cut costs and deal with a looming labour shortage as the country ages.

The robots would be able to carry out multiple tasks simultaneously with their two arms, achieving efficiency unseen in human workers and matching the cheap wages of Chinese labourers, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun said last week.

Japan’s top carmaker uses 3000 to 4000 less-advanced robots at its domestic factories but their use has been confined mostly to welding, painting and other potentially hazardous tasks, the economic daily said.

The new robots would also be used in finishing work, such as installation of seats and car interior fixtures, that have been too complex for conventional robots up to now, the daily said.

A Toyota spokesman confirmed the company would expand the use of advanced robots but said it had not decided whether to install them at all factories.

“Our principle is that human workers are the main players and robots are only in a supportive role,” the spokesman said.

The Nihon Keizai said Toyota planned eventually to become the first carmaker to use the advanced robots in all production processes but it did not give a timeframe.

“We aim to reduce production costs to the levels in China,” the daily quoted an unnamed company official as saying.

Toyota also took into account the looming labour shortage in Japan due to a declining birthrate, the report said.

Japan’s population is forecast to peak by 2006 with the average number of children a woman has standing at a post-World War II low of 1.29, according to the latest government data.

Japan has so far rejected calls to open up to large numbers of unskilled immigrants, fearing the effects on the country’s social framework.

Toyota has been increasingly turning to robot development and plans to welcome visitors to its pavilion at the World Expo in Japan in March with humanoid robots jamming in a brass ensemble and performing hip-hop.