Why is Japan building so many robots

When it comes to industrial robots, Japan occupies a top position globally

Japan relies on robots in industry and logistics. In both areas, the demand for automation equipment will continue to grow dynamically, both because there is a shortage of workers and because higher productivity gains are to be achieved. The most important industries for the use of robots in Nippon are the production of electronics, the automotive and automotive parts industries, and the manufacture of industrial machines.

Companies in Japan can fall back on a wide range of advanced robot technology. The country also purchases from abroad, albeit to a far lesser extent. Overall, the Japanese market for industrial robots is expected to grow to 25 billion US dollars (US $) by 2035, according to the state-supported research institute New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.

Japan makes extensive use of industrial robots

According to figures from the Japanese industry association Japan Robot Association (JRA), the delivery value in 2018 was over US $ 8.4 billion. The delivery quantity reached over 240,000 units. Around 59,000 units remained in Nippon, around a quarter of the robots produced in Japan. The rest was exported.

Nevertheless, according to the "World Robotics 2019" study by the International Federation of Robotics, Japan was not only able to maintain its position as the second largest user of industrial robots in 2018, but also to expand it. While the number of new installations has decreased in China and South Korea, it has increased by 21 percent in Japan. In the USA and Germany, the number of robots installed also increased by more than 20 percent each.

Delivery volume of industrial robots (in quantities; change in percent) *)

Branch 2017 2018 Change 18/17
.Inland 49.170 59.068 20,1
..Electro / electronics 18.707 20.619 10,2
..Cars and automotive parts 14.650 17.889 22,1
..Industrial machinery 3.895 4.987 28,0
..Metal goods 2.571 3.544 37,8
..Plastic 1.264 1.418 12,2
..Food 864 1.243 43,9
..Precision machines 523 751 43,6
..Chemistry 319 441 38,2
..other vehicles 236 286 21,2
..other 5.854 7.466 27,5
..non-manufacturing 287 318 10,8
..not clearly assignable - 106 -
.Export 184.215 183.059 -0,6
A total of 233.385 242.127 3,7

*) each calendar year

Source: Japan Robot Association (JRA)

Japan exports industrial robots extensively

Three quarters of the industrial robots produced are exported. They are used in Japanese plants overseas or are ordered by foreign companies. On a value basis, the 2018 JRA recorded industry product exports of nearly US $ 6 billion. On a yen basis, this corresponded to an increase of 1.5 percent compared to 2017.

However, Japanese industrial robot exports are likely to decline in both numbers and value in 2019. Because the ongoing trade conflict between the USA and China is influencing investments in new production equipment in the Middle Kingdom. Added to this is the cooling of the international economy, which is causing demand to fall.

Last but not least, companies in China are investing in robot production themselves, so that demand can partly be met locally. Nevertheless, manufacturing companies in China will remain the strongest buyers for Japanese industry products in the medium term, followed by the USA. According to JRA statistics, Germany overtook South Korea and Taiwan as the third largest sales market in 2017

Japan's export of industrial robots to major customer countries (in million US $; change in percent) 1) 2)

Buying country 2017 2018 Change 18/17 3)
China 2.318 2.427 3,1
United States 1.055 1.004 -6,3
Germany 487 565 14,2
South Korea 410 436 4,9
Taiwan 357 316 -12,9

1) each calendar year; 2) JRA members and non-members; 3) on a yen basis

Source: JRA

Industry invests in diversification

In order to avoid protectionist developments, Japanese manufacturers are investing in diversifying their production. For example, as one of the largest producers of motors and parts for robot systems, Nidec bought several German industry companies in 2018 and 2019. Nidec wants to strengthen itself overall in the robot area and expand the business in Europe.

Hitachi already bought two automation companies in the first six months of 2019. One company is the Japanese KEC Corp., which specializes in the integration of robot systems. In the USA, Hitachi acquired JR Automation Technologies, which builds production lines and logistics systems on an automated basis.

With Fanuc, Yaskawa Electric, Mitsubishi Electric and Kawasaki, Japan has several players in the field of industrial robots. There are also other companies that supply important parts for robots or carry out system integration. Aside from large industrial robots, these companies are now also developing cobots (collaborative robots) that can be used in conjunction with people to support workers.

Further information on the economic situation, industries, business practices, law and customs in Japan can be found at http://www.gtai.de/japan. The page http://www.gtai.de/asien-pazifik offers an overview of various topics in Asia-Pacific.