The Hanwha Group has selected the collaborative robot business as a future growth engine along with the solar cell business, hoping it would help meet the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
For this, the group separated Hanwha Precision Machinery from Hanwha Techwin last July, and early this year Hanwha Precision Machinery took over the robot business from Hanwha Techwin.
Jang Woo-seok, executive director of Hanwha Techwin, who was leading the development of robots and future technology, moved to the robot division at Hanwha Precision Machinery. He is the top industrial robot expert in Korea who received his Ph.D. in electrical and electronics engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
"The global market for industrial robots, which currently amounts to 20 trillion won (US$18.7 billion), is expected to grow explosively in the next five to 10 years," said Jang. "Global companies such as Amazon, Google and Softbank are all jumping into robotics research.”
Among industrial robots, Hanhwa focuses on “collaborative robots.” A collaborative robot is a robot that works with people in the same space. The most attractive aspect of collaborative robots is that they are safe and easy to operate.
According to the International Robot Federation, the market of large industrial robots is expected to grow by an annual rate of 10% from 2017 to 2023, while the market of collaborative robots is expected to grow by an average of 57%. The global market size was about US$300 million last year, but it is expected to increase more than 10 times to US$4.3 billion by 2023.
"The demand for collaborative robots is expected to increase explosively, fueled by a combination of several factors, including the proliferation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a rapid growth of Chinese manufacturers, a shift to multi-product production, the aging population, and the reshoring policy in each country,” said Jang. “When combined with artificial intelligence (AI), smart factories will be realized and the industrial landscape will be greatly changed."
As the market potential is endless, Hanwha is paying attention to the collaborative robot business at the group level. The Hanwha Group recently allowed the robotics division of Hanwha Precision Machine to use an independent brand called Hanwha Robotics.
Hanwha Robotics is looking for opportunities in overseas markets rather than in domestic markets. In fact, various industrial robots are already active in domestic manufacturing factories. Not many countries have as advanced factory automation as Korea does. “However, if we turn our eyes to overseas, there are regions such as Europe, the US, and Southeast Asia that are pushing for factory digitization and smart factories." Jang said.
"We are going to expand our sales network to four markets including Europe, the US, China, and Southeast Asia," Jang said. "Now, the robots are used for industry in factories but they will soon be used both for industry and home.”
Of course, the disadvantages and limitations of collaborative robots are obvious. The payload (the weight that can be lifted) is a maximum of 15 to 20kg. Raising the payload increases the robot's weight and size, and affects workplace safety. The robots are used for simple and repetitive work as AI technology has not been applied yet. Robots alone cannot handle complex and creative processes, but the emergence of intelligent collaborative robots is also in sight.