Appetite for industrial robots versus human workers is being driven by the potential for cost savings (especially as labour costs rise), faster speeds, quality, stability and safety advantages. This has seen global robot sales rise 8 per cent year on year in 2015 to breach the 240,000 unit mark for the first time, driven by solid demand from the automotive industry and China.
Fanuc, which has about 17 per cent market share globally, is heavily positioned in China, where demand for "cobots" (collaboration robots) rose 16 per cent last year to 66,000 units. These articulated robots (which have rotary joints) work side by side with human workers and are routinely used in a number of industries.
The market in the Western world is also growing strongly, with North American sales up 11 per cent last year to 34,000 units while Europe saw 9 per cent year-on-year growth to about 50,000 units. Fanuc is expanding its footprint, with plans to establish four new facilities across the Americas which management says will "significantly increase" capacity.
The Japanese manufacturer has also partnered with multinational technology company CISCO with its concept of "zero downtime", which involves connecting bots with sensors and the internet to streamline factory production.
The new technology will enable factory owners to easily customise their robots and systems by downloading the necessary applications via the Fanuc platform, in much the same way that phone users download smartphone apps on iStore.
The new platform will also be open to peers in the sector to connect their machines and apps to the platform. Fanuc will be able to generate revenues from that as well as fee income from app developers as a platform provider, in a model similar to that used by Google and Apple. It will gain a tremendous competitive edge by being the first player to provide such a service.
Fanuc's results were in line with expectations in the third quarter to December 31, with the market already expecting weaker sales. Revenues fell 25.1 per cent year on year to ¥137.6 billion ($A1.67 billion). But robot division sales were a bright spot, up 20 per cent.
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