Thailand 4.0: Collaborative Automation and the Workforce of the Future

Thailand 4.0: Collaborative Automation and the Workforce of the Future

Despite all the personal and economic turbulence Covid-19 has caused, I see tremendous opportunity across Southeast Asia for adaptation and innovation. I believe the region is poised to emerge from the recent pandemic stronger and more resilient, with growing economies routed in sustainable manufacturing.
This is particularly clear in Thailand, which has in place a progressive 20-year Thailand 4.0 plan to utilize advanced technology to strengthen prominent industries and to develop new sectors. Robotics is among the 10 industries that the government will support through a range of business incentives it hopes will attract investment.

With the Finance Ministry bracing for at least an 8 percent GDP contraction in 2020 , it is a crucial time to expedite the Thailand 4.0 goals and help fuel an economic rebound. Robotics and collaborative automation will play an important role in meeting these goals.
Strength in SMEs

SMEs comprise 99.8 percent of companies in Thailand, accounting for about 14 million jobs, and contributing as much as 45 percent to GDP in 2018. Without addressing the challenges that these companies face, it will be very difficult to achieve the Thailand 4.0 goals. For SMEs, reducing costs, finding skilled labor, increasing productivity, reducing complexity with high-mix-low-volume production, and making the right investments to increase sustainability are key focus areas.

Traditionally, automation was considered suitable only for large production facilities due to cost and scale. Today, modern automation solutions, like collaborative applications, offer more flexibility and affordability, making it viable for SMEs that lack the resources to make large scale investments.

Collaborative applications – created when lightweight industrial robots and collaborative robots (cobots) are equipped with intelligent tools such as grippers, sensors, vision and the software that drives them – are the future of automation. These advanced technologies enable simple, rapid deployment and new processes while working safely alongside workers. Apart from providing a quick and easy entry-point to automation, collaborative applications can help businesses increase their output, reduce costs, and ultimately create new jobs.

Thai businesses need to adopt automation sooner rather than later. Thailand’s medium-sized businesses anticipate readiness for automated systems in three to five years, while small companies may take more than five years. They should move faster.

The government offers support, such as a five-year corporate tax exemption for automation-related projects. An Eastern Economic Corridor executive adviser recommends that the government go even further by providing SMEs low-interest loans that will provide the liquidity necessary to automate systems. Importantly, the adviser notes that robotic systems are up to 60 percent cheaper than a decade ago and can be repaid in eight months—or less.
Collaborative automation benefits are seen in Thai businesses. A local manufacturer producing electrical side window control panels for the automotive industry integrated the OnRobot RG2 Grippers into its assembly line and quality control station. On the assembly line, a Dual RG2 Gripper picks and places the unfinished product on an automated screwing machine while a single RG2 Gripper transfers the finished product to the quality control station for testing. This has increased productivity and enhanced output quality.

Future-Proofing the Thai Workforce

While traditional automation primarily focuses on streamlining manufacturing operations, collaborative applications are designed to complement employees, not replace them. Collaborative automation creates higher-value, more productive positions while freeing workers from strenuous, monotonous tasks.
This is the case for Sanmatsu, a Japanese contract manufacturer. The company paired OnRobot’s RG6 Dual grippers with a cobot to automate a machine tending application. The RG6 extracts and sets parts simultaneously with its dual grippers, speeding up cycle time and lowering machine idle time roughly by half. This eliminates the need to have a worker continuously stationed at the machine, reducing overtime and lowering production costs by 10 percent.

Several upskilling programs in the field of robotics and automation are already underway, with the government again offering corporate tax exemptions to businesses that increase their investments in employee training. Additionally, academic institutions like The Institute of Field Robotics of King Mongkut’s University of Technology now offer degrees in robotics and automation engineering while Chulalongkorn University and Assumption University has partnered with a robotic automation platform developer to prepare students to work alongside robots.
I strongly believe that collaborative automation can play a significant role in Thailand’s ambitious 4.0 economic strategy, supporting the country in staying competitive and building a future-ready workforce.

Article by James Taylor, General Manager, APAC, OnRobot

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