Labor Saving Machines are Taking over Japan

The machinery sector is striving to develop labor-saving technology with artificial intelligence and connected devices to help firms cope with labor shortages in industries from construction and natural resource development to electronic parts manufacturing.


Major Japanese machinery makers such as Komatsu Ltd. and Fanuc Corp. gathered earlier this month at an electronics show near Tokyo to showcase their latest technologies in the absence of some electronics giants like Sony Corp.

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Companies from other non-technology industries also joined the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies, or CEATEC, Asia’s largest electronics trade show, as they looked to team up across sectors to address pressing issues such as the labor crunch by using AI and internet of things technologies.


At CEATEC, Komatsu, which took part in the exhibition for the first time, demonstrated its concept of a future construction site where an autonomous hydraulic excavator and a self-driving crawler dump truck work together using image analysis, topographic surveying and obstacle detection, all operated by AI devices.


Komatsu also displayed a bulldozer remotely controlled through live images by an operator sitting in a specialized cockpit. The real-time images were sent through high- precision image cameras installed in the bulldozer.


The construction machinery maker is a pioneer in developing unmanned construction sites. It launched a trial project using driverless trucks in an iron ore mine in Australia in 2008.


The construction industry is one of the sectors most severely hit by labor shortages. With more skilled workers retiring and the need rising for rebuilding infrastructure in natural disaster-prone Japan, many contractors are banking on AI and other technologies to address labor shortages, analysts said.


Komatsu’s CEO said the construction sector will face a workforce shortage of 1.28 million people by 2026, or one-third of the required number. He added that 94 percent of construction companies are small-sized with 10 or fewer employees in Japan.


Industrial machinery maker Fanuc put on show at CEATEC a new labor-saving production system which connects various manufacturing devises via the internet to raise productivity and enables maintenance-free operations with real-time monitoring of operations and detection of any abnormalities.


The company also exhibited AI-powered robots that can pick out the right parts among a jumble of disarranged and different-sized ones for use by various manufacturers including auto, electronics and machinery companies.


Reference: Machinery makers look to labor-saving tech to combat labor shortages


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