Korea teams up with Samsung to build factory robots

Samsung is the world's largest consumer electronics company. Image cropped & courtesy of Flickr - Nan Palmero
Samsung will team up with the South Korean government to develop manufacturing robots. Image courtesy of Flickr - Nan Palmero

The government of South Korea has announced a new cooperative project to develop factory robots for use in the country’s manufacturing sector.

Under a plan outlined by the country’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, South Korea will work with multinational conglomerate Samsung in order to achieve this aim.

To help facilitate this, the government plans to invest 16.75bn won ($14.8m) into the sector over the course of three years.

The target will be the development of a new generation of ‘high-precision’ workplace robots able to manufacture high-end consumer electronics, such as mobile phones and tablet computers.

The investment money itself will be funneled into small and medium sized robotics companies rather than larger players.

“Emphasis will be placed on developing precision speed reducers, motors, controllers and sensor encoders that are currently expensive and imported from abroad,” the ministry said according to Yonhap News Agency.

“Development of these parts should be completed by late 2018.”

They also went on to point out that Samsung Electronics will provide product specification, quality verification, offer consulting and give guidance to robot makers to get their products to market.

While not selling robots directly, Samsung will benefit from the development of these systems, as it would allow it to rely less on Chinese production of its electronics. There rising labor costs have cut into the company’s profit margins, making robotic manufacturing more attractive.

“Once affordable robots reach the market […], it can lead to the creation of ‘smart factories’ and bring about far-reaching innovations to the manufacturing sector,” the ministry said.

Investment tiny compared to China

Currently South Korea is the fourth largest market in the world for robots, with China far ahead in first position.

There the government is investing billions of dollars into the development of both automated factories as well as a robotic systems manufacturing hub centered around the Pearl River Delta.

Given that these investments dwarf those of South Korea, it is unlikely a Korean robotics industry will be able to compete without significant additional support.