April 03, 2017

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21st-century Thailand looks to robotics for manufacturing advantage

Fumiyoshi Kawahara, President of OTC Daihen Asia

“Twenty years ago, nobody wanted robots on production lines in Thai factories,” recalls Fumiyoshi Kawahara, president of OTC Daihen Asia — the Thai subsidiary of the Japanese robotics manufacturer. “Manpower was much cheaper than automated machines.”

Today, Thailand is a different place. Since political stability has returned to the country in recent years, its manufacturing prowess has gone back to its normal pace. Today, many Thai factories are turning to automation and OTC Daihen is in the best position to offer robotic solutions to a range of sectors.

Kawahara has been in Thailand before. Known informally as “Mr. Fixit,” he has spent more than 35 years in the company across its global network — and has become an acknowledged expert in turning crises into opportunities.

“I moved to Thailand in 1994 to establish OTC Daihen’s sales arm here,” Kawahara says. “In 1997 I experienced the Asian financial crisis firsthand.”

He later moved between Germany and Japan as needed, and finally returned to Thailand in 2015 as the subsidiary’s president. OTC Daihen’s specialist arc welding robots are especially suited for the country’s auto manufacturing plants.

Arc welding is best used for producing car chassis. “Our new welding tool — Synchro Feed GMA — significantly minimizes metal splatter when used, halving the amount of work that needs to be done,” explains Kawahara. “This greatly improves efficiency when creating the finished product, producing a very clean end result — and it’s more economical as well.”

“We developed this in 2015,” he continues. “It is relatively expensive compared to other machines, but is more valuable in the long run. In order to show potential clients its advantages, we invite them to a showroom in our factory in Rayong and Navanakorn to demonstrate its advantages.”

As a hub for automotive manufacturing and other production in the region, Thailand is often a pioneer for methods that then become the norm in the rest of Southeast Asia. This is why it is important for OTC Daihen to have a base in the country. But the company is also looking beyond carmaking to other major Thai economic sectors such as furniture, raw material handling and food production.

“Diversification is needed to keep our operations and market growing,” says Kawahara. “My goal for OTC Daihen in Thailand while I am here is to establish and diversify the expanding group of industries where OTC can be involved.”

“Food, in particular, is a major sector in Thailand in which robotics can provide innovative solutions,” he continues. “For this, new applications and robots are needed. For example, food-handling robots have to be made of stainless steel, not die-cast. Different markets have different safety and precaution requirements.”

The 130th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Thailand was celebrated this year, highlighted by the brief visit to the country earlier by Japan’s Imperial couple, throws into relief the key role of Japanese companies in the development of the Thai economy. It is a role that solutions providers such as OTC Daihen, through its robotics technology, continue to play as 21st century Thailand advances.

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