CHANGWON, South Gyeongsang Province -- The factory automation spearheaded by robots has allowed LG Electronics’ home appliance manufacturing plant, located some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, to boost productivity and ensure workplace safety.
“Over the course of five years of operation, we saw a nearly 25 percent increase in output, along with a similar employment rate for the last five years,” said Kang Myeong-suk, a task leader at LG’s kitchen appliances division, during a briefing in LG Smart Park, located in the industrial city of Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province.
The automation is in place across the entire manufacturing process -- from logistics, production to unmanned remote monitoring system -- decreasing defects and speeding up the manufacturing process.
Since the introduction in 2017, there is a line drawn between human workers and unmanned robots in terms of the roles assigned to them, but at the same time, the two have complementary abilities.
For example, unmanned machines inside LG Smart Park -- which makes white goods like refrigerators, washers and dryers -- are capable of handling repetitive and physically demanding duties while human workers can concentrate on their core duties.
Processes such as welding, which involves work with fire, have largely been notorious for emitting poisonous gases. Putting multiple screws in fridges can cause eye strain for human workers.
The robots in the factory are also in charge of transporting heavy goods, as factory utilizes automated guided vehicles, which follow QR codes imprinted on the floor to travel around and carry loads weighing up to 600 kilograms.
Made in collaboration with LG’s telecom carrier unit LG Uplus, such "automated guided vehicles" are the first in the world to roam around with stuffs loaded while providing fifth-generation internet connection in a manufacturing factory.
The automated manufacturing processes are further overseen by LG’s own “digital twin” monitoring system. The system utilizes artificial intelligence and big data to let the program autonomously record and assess the inventory status, production performance and machinery failures.
Such automation decreased the chances of the employee burnout, Kang said, adding LG Smart Park is an exception to a phenomenon where more manufacturing companies in South Korea struggle to fill in jobs.
“The company has suffered from employees who quit work because of its physically demanding, repetitive duties. Moreover, the quality of products was also affected by the inefficient manufacturing process, as human workers had bodily limits,” said Kang.
The goal of gradual transition to total automation of factories is the coexistence of robot and human workers, Kang added.
“Despite the concerns that robot workers will replace human workers, LG Smart Park production center has been able to retain its number of employees,” said Kang, noting that robots have only replaced works that were harmful to the human body or ones that humans could not do well.
"In fact, there has been a 10 to 15 percent increase in number of jobs last year, from supplying materials to newly set up robots," added Kang.