Taiwanese robot makers showcase key technologies at Japan's iREX event

Chloe Liao, Taipei; Jack Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Credit: TAIORA

As the world's most important robot technology exhibition, the 2023 Tokyo International Robot Exhibition (iREX) is considered the largest in history. With the current global surge in automation demand, Japan stands out as a pioneer in robot technology and a top market scale-wise due to its severely aging population. This makes it a market that many companies are actively pursuing.

In 2023, several prominent Taiwanese manufacturers attracted plenty of attention at iREX. Some secured long-term orders from major Japanese automakers and robot manufacturers while establishing technology development collaborations with Japanese electronics manufacturers.

Reportedly, companies like Techman Robot (the world's number two collaborative robot (cobot) maker), Hiwin (which specializes in robot-related components), Touché Solutions, and LIPS all exhibited key technologies and showcased integrated solutions that garnered attention.

Due to the increased demand for automation driven by the labor shortage, robot application scenarios have spread to various industries worldwide. For robot manufacturers and related businesses, delivering comprehensive solutions over individual machines to reduce the barrier to entry has become more crucial.

In particular, integrating sensing technology to enhance a robot's perceptual capabilities has become especially mature and widespread in various industries, whether to improve the robot's accuracy, user-friendliness, or autonomous learning.

In recent years, Techman Robot has emphasized AI vision as the core of its robots. It is currently the only robot brand that offers native vision and positioning capabilities. At iREX 2023, the company showcased a comprehensive AI cobot.

Techman Robot's current automaker clients include major brands like Toyota and Germany's Continental. It's reported that the technology is capable of multi-angle AI defect detection to create production records, receiving praise from Japanese automakers.

Touché Solutions has been cultivating touch-based robot technology for a long time and has developed a robot tactile "skin." Its products have made their way into companies like Japan's Kawasaki Robotics and Mitsubishi Electric.

Through tactile sensing, the robot skin can enhance the safety of non-conventional collaborative robot arms, achieving effects similar to cobots. Touché Solutions has already developed over 20 specifications of robot skin, and its T-Skin robot received the 2023 Taiwan Excellence Award. iREX 2023 marked the company's first exhibition in Japan, where it secured long-term orders from various Japanese robotic arm manufacturers.

As for Hiwin, it shared products and applications that include industrial robots and electric grippers and emphasized the concept of sustainable manufacturing.

3D vision provider LIPS showcased next-gen edge intelligence and low-latency 3D robot visual solutions. They introduced the LIPSedge 3D camera and 3D AI edge accelerator with edge computing capabilities, which have been adopted by several major Japanese companies.

In recent years, the Japanese government has offered over US$930 million in funds to develop robot technology in key industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, infrastructure, and agriculture. Investments cover areas such as autonomous driving, aerospace robots, and next-gen robot research.

Due to Japan's severely aging labor force and the need to improve its industrial digital transformation progress, significant business opportunities are emerging. It's expected that in the future, more funds will be invested in robotics and automation.

On the other hand, Japanese investments in Taiwan have been consistently active in recent years, reaching a historic high of around US$1.7 billion in 2022. According to Taiwanese officials stationed in Japan, Taiwan plays a crucial role in smart manufacturing, with local companies excelling in integrating information and flexible production in the short term and providing customized smart solutions.

Coupled with Taiwan's strengths in industries such as communication, electronics, and semiconductors, there is potential for the two sides to become strategic partners based on industrial complementary collaboration. Taiwan and Japan can work together to develop business opportunities in digital transformation, creating a secure and trustworthy supply chain ecosystem.

While Japanese and European companies historically dominated the global robot industry, the situation has changed in recent years. Industry sources revealed that Taiwanese companies, which traditionally compete with South Korea and China in the mid-to-low-end product markets, are now finding more opportunities with Japanese manufacturers as they increasingly seek a balance between cost and quality. In the future, business opportunities for Taiwanese robot manufacturers will continue to grow.