On Monday, a spokesman for Canon Inc. said that the camera manufacturer is moving towards a fully automated production of its digital cameras, a key step to reducing costs. The spokesman continued that this move will help continue the image that Japan is a nation of technological advancement, and should not be seen as part of the stereotype that assembly workers’ jobs are outsourced to China or replaced by machines. It still seems that Canon is eager to make the jump to automated production, saying that the change in target to be completed in the next few years, even as early as 2015.
Japanese electronics manufacturers have been struggling to reduce costs in recent years, and one of the ways to achieve that is to move assembly jobs overseas. As many companies are struggling with profits as a result of the strong yen, jobs are quickly moving to countries where the cost of labor is cheaper, such as China, India, and other parts of southeast Asia. But Canon says that none of its workers are going to be eliminated, instead they will be trained and moved to new types of work.
Toyota Motor Corp. has also made advancements into robotic assembly, stating that is helps them achieve a higher accuracy and better quality, not just reduce costs. In a recent plant tour for the press, Toyota displayed how things like welding were faster and much more precise with the use of robotics.
Professor Akihito Sano, of the Nagoya Institute of Technology, has said that Japan needs to be more practical with its robotics technology. Instead of humanoid designs with the most intricate movements, there should be more focus on products with a functional and practical purpose. He points to the Roomba vacuum cleaner from the U.S.’s iRobot Corp. as an example. While Honda Motor Co.’s advanced, human shaped robot Asimo can pour juice, run on two legs, and has voice recognition, it still can’t come into your living room and vacuum the floor for you. Sano explains that human intelligence can’t be replaced, and the future is robots that can communicate and work together with humans. The idea of a non-human work environment is just science fiction.