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Robotic industry exports counter domestic slump

As demand in Korea slowed, exports drove up production last year

The nation’s robotics industry broke the 2 trillion won ($1.75 billion) mark in terms of production last year, largely driven by strong demand from the soaring Chinese market, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said Wednesday.

A recent ministry report said the overall production of the nation’s robotic industry went up 20 percent to about 2.15 trillion won last year.

Amid slowing demand in Korea as well as in Europe and North America, exports to overseas markets such as China more than doubled to reach 521.1 billion won, the report said.

“As China experienced an overall rise in labor costs in 2011, their workforces are being replaced by factory automation with robots,” said Kang Kam-chan, director of the ministry’s robotics industry division.

For instance, Foxconn International Holdings, a major manufacturer of Apple products, came to depend much more on automated robotics devices than before, Kang said, boosting the Korean robotics industry’s exports of robotic devices and parts to China.

The export of manufacturing robots ― used in automated manufacturing systems installed in factories for more delicate, safe and economical operations than manual labor ― soared 195.2 percent, making up for the poor domestic demand which decreased 1.6 percent.

Service-providing robots ― ranging from home robots such as educational devices and housework-aid machine s to professional-use robots including those for defense, medical purposes and safety and robotics parts ― also saw increases of 13.4 percent and 86.1 percent in exports, respectively.

“The manufacturing robots make up the majority of the facility investment made by companies in Korea, which had been scarce last year,” said Kang.

Manufacturing robots are used largely in the automobile and electronic sectors, especially for displays and semiconductors. But with the depression in the display sector in 2011, business companies’ investment fell, leading to a drop in demand for robots.

“It is about the impact of the global economy. For instance, the number of house-cleaning robots exported to Europe and North America went down a lot compared to 2010 because consumption dropped in these areas,” the director said.

By Chung Joo-won (
Korea Herald Youtube