Canon Inc., the world’s largest digital camera manufacturer, plans to fully automate its digital camera plants over the course of the next two years. The move is aimed at helping Canon cut overall manufacturing costs.
Japanese manufacturers have faced a number of challenges resulting from the value of the yen. In recent years, many have moved their facilities overseas to increase production and efficiency.
Canon spokesman Jun Misumi says the move will not destroy company jobs but instead will help preserve Japan as a technological power: "When machines become more sophisticated, human beings can be transferred to do new kinds of work."
Workers displaced by robots will be moved to production control or other jobs.
Wave of The Future
Canon is not the first Japanese manufacturer to replace workers with robots. Toyota Motor Corp. has automated a number of its production steps. After installing instantaneous laser welders, welding has gotten faster and more efficient, allowing auto production to remain stable while simultaneously reducing costs.
The first phase of automation will occur in plants located in Japan, which will be followed by Canon’s three overseas plants if all goes well. If the implementation is successful, Canon will become the first manufacturer to fully automate digital camera production.
Canon has used the cell-production method since the late 1990s. In cell production, an individual or a team is used to put together a part as opposed to the same worker doing repetitive tasks like in a traditional assembly line. Robots are already part of Canon’s cell production so it should not be difficult to phase out human workers.
Akihito Sano, a Nagoya Institute of Technology professor, told Bloomberg Businessweek that a completed automated production facility is still the work of science fiction, and people are needed to create innovation and communicate to the robots. Sano went on to say Japanese robotics manufacturers tend to focus on humanoids and research; however, to be competitive, they need to focus on practical technology.
Key Statistics - Global Digital Camera Industry
- By the year 2017, the market for digital cameras is forecast to reach 155 million units globally. (source: Global Industry Analysts)
- In North America and Europe, the demand for digital cameras is reaching saturation, with between 85%-95% of households owning a digital camera. (source: Global Industry Analysts)
- The world's largest producer of digital cameras is China, and the nation exported 109 million digital cameras totaling nearly $7.1 billion in 2010, a 12% increase on the year before. (source: Research in China)