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|Arno Strotgen, global head of customer service at ABB’s Robotics Business Unit|
The adoption of industrial robots is on the rise worldwide. How do you perceive the trend in robotics and what future awaits Asia as a whole in this regard?
The global robotics industry has grown fast over the last five years. Sales doubled and growth rose by double digits ever year. And in 2017, a record year, a new World Robotics Report showed that a new record high of 381,000 units were shipped globally, an increase of 30 per cent compared to the previous year. This means that the annual sales volume of industrial robots increased by 114 per cent in the five years up to 2017. Sales value increased by 21 per cent compared to 2016 to a new peak of $16.2 billion.
The main driver of that growth was contributed by Asia. The continent is the world’s fastest-growing market for robotics solutions, and for good reason. As the region’s quickly-growing countries industrialise and begin making more goods than ever, robots help them do so at a comparatively lower cost than with human capital.
The automotive industry remains the largest adopter globally. The manufacturing of passenger cars has become increasingly complex over the past 10 years. A substantial proportion of the production processes nowadays require automation solutions using robots. Manufacturers of hybrid and electric cars are experiencing stronger demand for a wider variety of car models, just like the traditional car manufacturers. Furthermore, the challenge of meeting 2030 climate targets will finally require a larger proportion of new cars to be low- and zero-emissions vehicles.
Besides the automotive industry and electronics sector, newer fields such as logistics will have more robots coming. The big trend is in collaborative robotics, and ABB has presented YuMi that can work beside humans. For example, a single-arm YuMi robot, developed by ABB, can be used to feed parts to a dual-arm YuMi to speed up cycle time, or added as an extra arm to integrate a testing and inspection station into an electronics assembly application. The single-arm type also features the same intuitive, easy-to-use lead through programming as the dual-arm, meaning even workers without specialized training can set up and operate the robot. Combining this simplicity with the robot’s deployment flexibility can help manufacturers in many industries offset shortages of skilled workers. Thus collaborative robotics is a promising area for the future.
What role does Vietnam play in ABB’s strategy and what unique offerings can you bring to this market?
We at ABB’s Robotics Business Unit appreciate Vietnam’s strong growth and think that the country will become an important regional and maybe even global manufacturing hub. As the nation’s leading robotics company, we have quite a solid base here, along with very important global and local customers.
With a fast-growing economy and a young population, the country is shifting to a global manufacturing base. Although the need for robots is estimated to reach a million in 2020, most local industrial production firms are still lagging behind, and still untouched by Industry 4.0
ABB Robotics has been a pioneer in connectivity. Now everybody talks about 4.0, but we actually began working on it 10 years ago by connecting robots with our cloud. This technical centre will not only help our local team, but allow us to co-operate with customers to develop Industry 4.0 with our connected services, which transfer information from robots around the world to our ABB Ability cloud. This centre will bring the manufacturing industry, and even universities, closer to companies like ABB to show them the incredible gains new technology could yield.
This will also ensure faster reaction times, higher efficiency and better service technician preparation for on-site calls and support, ultimately helping to keep robotic systems running at optimal performance.
What we bring to Vietnam is know-how. We strive to be local, but at the same time bring a great store of application knowledge we have amassed from over 400,000 robots installed globally. This ensures the versatility of our robots, enabling them to be used for a spectacular range of tasks in a myriad of industries: packaging, painting – even complex activities like welding. This know-how we bring from our global centres to Vietnam to support our wide range of connectivity solutions.
After 25 years in Vietnam, what does the term “glocalisation” mean to the group?
Over the last 25 years, ABB Vietnam has grown to become a reliable partner in the field of technology, providing solutions and services to the market. In addition, our factories in Vietnam manufacture transformers, high-voltage components, and medium-voltage power products for customers across Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. We currently employ some 900 people across Hanoi, Danang, and Ho Chi Minh City.
An important differentiator for ABB is that we can bring the entire weight of ABB’s expertise from over 400,000 robot installations and more than 8,000 connected robots everywhere we do businesses. Facilities like this new Robotics Technical and Service Centre allow us to work closer with local customers, to understand their unique needs and challenges, while bringing them ABB’s global technological expertise.
The human factor is of particular importance. The local workforce is empowered by our strategy, and they operate as an organic part of the global system. ABB has a strong history in Vietnam, and this is due to the strong partnerships we have established with local companies. I would encourage local companies to be bold in their approach, so that they can showcase what they can offer international companies.
This could be something as pragmatic as ensuring their workforce has the technical and language literacy to communicate with foreign companies, or ensuring that their production facilities are world-class in terms of reliability, efficiency and quality.
Many companies with successful global sourcing objectives have not only lowered their overall supply costs, but also pioneered innovative supply partnerships enabling value-driven transformation. ABB Vietnam is proud to have contributed to the delivery of many key projects that have an important role to play in the nation’s development. Our flagship ventures include the Phu My thermal power plant, the Hai Van tunnel, the Uong Bi thermal power plant, the Dung Quat refinery, and many substations for the national grid. ABB Vietnam have also powered and automated many industrial plants in different economic sectors.
The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Transpacific Partnership (CPTPP) are expected to take effect in 2019. What should the Vietnamese government do to encourage multinational groups like ABB to invest more here?
I think these moves are an opportunity for Vietnam not only in imports but also exports. It will make it easier to import raw materials to the manufacturing sector while also giving a chance for engineering to participate in big projects outside of the country. Vietnam is an attractive country because in the young workforce we see tremendous opportunities to contribute to the development of the country, and to help our customers make giant leaps in both the energy revolution and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
ABB can see opportunities in this emerging economy, specifically to offer solutions to make project implementation easier, to bring digitalisation to industries and the infrastructure sector, and backed by years of experience and domain expertise. Whether it is growing power and infrastructure needs, or fast-developing manufacturing, we can make a truly exciting contribution to customers through our products, services, and digital offerings.