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Hyundai Motor to Introduce Wearable Robots to Factories in S. Korea
Signaling Possibility of Cutting Human Laborers?
Hyundai Motor to Introduce Wearable Robots to Factories in S. Korea
  • By Jung Min-hee
  • January 24, 2018, 03:00
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A wearable robot for back support being developed by the Hyundai Motor Group.
A wearable robot for back support being developed by the Hyundai Motor Group.

 

The Hyundai Motor Group will introduce wearable robots to automobile production lines late this year. This will mark the first time that a wearable robot is put into an automobile production line in Korea. Wearable robots are literally robots that workers wear to work better and faster at their workplaces. Wearable robots save workers power 30% to 40% when workers wear them. The Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group will gradually expand the introduction of wearable robots to its plants and aim to sell industrial robots in the future.

According to the automobile industry on March 23, the Hyundai Motor Group is pushing forward with the introduction of wearable robots to automobile production lines within this year. "We will introduce wearable robots at our plants in Korea later this year," a senior official at Hyundai Motor said. “We are developing them with Hyundai Rotem."

The Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group is the only Korean company developing wearable robots for their commercialization. Within the group, Hyundai Motor and Hyundai Rotem have been cooperating with each other since 2010 as two leading players in the development of wearable robots. Hyundai Rotem focuses on production of these robots. Unlike medical wearable robots expected to be commercialized within this year in accordance with a long-term plan, it was expected that it would take at least two years to commercialize industrial robots when taking price and other requirements into consideration. However, this year, Chung Eui-sun, vice chairman of Hyundai Motors has been concentrating on robot development by including robots in the group’s five new business items, accelerating the group’s introduction of wearable robots.

According to the Hyundai Automotive Group, if workers continue to work in the morning and afternoon, their work duration rate in the afternoon hits only 69%, but that of workers with wearable robots on is 95%. First of all, the Hyundai Motor Group will introduce wearable robots that can support workers’ backs and knees first. These devices will be introduced to the group’s plants at the end of this year and will be commercialized after one to two years of field tests.

It is said that wearable robots is a breakthrough technology in terms of raising work efficiency and lowering injury rates. At the same time, experts say that they can be a starting point for productivity improvement through a reduction of human resources in the long run. Right now, the primary goal is to reduce workers' injuries, but it is a major opinion in the industry that the introduction of robots will lead to pruning labor costs which is considered the number-one task for enhancing corporate competitiveness.

According to statistics of the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association, it takes 26.8 hours to produce one car at an auto plant in Korea. This fact supports this viewpoint that robots will dial up corporate competitiveness. In terms of production capacity, Korean automakers fall short compared to Japan's Toyota (24.1 hours) and GM of the US (23.4 hours). This is why the introduction of wearable robots should be agreed with the labor union first.

"People may think that factory automation will cut jobs. But I think that conversely, factory automation will create decent new jobs in new technology sectors such as software and coding.” Experts say that Chung’s remark hints at the group’s move to introduce robots to factories.