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The Factory Where Robots Build Robots ( 59

turkeydance shared Bloomberg's profile of Fanuc, a secretive Japanese company with 40,000-square-foot factories "where robots made other robots in the dark...stopping only when no storage space remains." About 80% of the company's assembly work is automated, and its robots then go on to assemble and paint cars, build motors, and make electrical components. "King of them all is the Robodrill, which plays first violin in one of the great symphonies of modern production: machining the metal casing for Apple Inc.'s iPhones..." With 40% profit margins, the robot vendor has become a $50 billion company controlling most of the world's market for factory automation and industrial robotics, Bloomberg reports: In fact, Fanuc might just be the single most important manufacturing company in the world right now, because everything Fanuc does is designed to make it part of what every other manufacturing company is doing... The company even profits from its competitors' sales, because more than half of all industrial robots are directed by its numerical-control software. Between the almost 4 million CNC systems and half-million or so industrial robots it has installed around the world, Fanuc has captured about one-quarter of the global market, making it the industry leader over competitors such as Yaskawa Motoman and ABB Robotics in Germany, each of which has about 300,000 industrial robots installed globally. Fanuc's Robodrills now command an 80 percent share of the market for smartphone manufacturing robots.
Fanuc's clients include Amazon and Tesla, but U.S. orders "are dwarfed by those from China -- some 90,000 units, almost a third of the world's total industrial robot orders last year."
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The Factory Where Robots Build Robots

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  • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @01:04AM (#55415931)

    U.S. orders are dwarfed by those from China

    Sir, we must close the Robot Gap!

    • by lbmouse ( 473316 )
      Time to build a Robot Great Wall.
  • I always wondered where the factories were that Skynet controlled, to make Terminators. Now I know.

  • How do they know? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 23, 2017 @02:07AM (#55416069)

    Fanuc's clients include Amazon and Tesla, but U.S. orders "are dwarfed by those from China -- some 90,000 units, almost a third of the world's total industrial robot orders last year."

    When working for a manufacturer, they added a new fully automated line. The tooling was purchased from a local US manufacturer. No one registered the sale with anyone. No one recorded it. We just did it like any other business expense.

    Where do these numbers come from? Did Bloomberg simply trust the numbers given to them by the company they were making a glowing review for?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Either the "local US manufacturer" makes this information available directly (e.g. for potential investors), or their output is estimated based upon available information, or (if no-one bothers to make such an estimate) its output is too small to be worth counting (but someone will have estimated the total output of the "too small to be worth counting" segment).

  • by aberglas ( 991072 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @02:17AM (#55416085)

    As I recall, it did not work out that well.

    Here in Australia we have just closed our major manufacturing, with the last car produced a few weeks ago. We prefer to dig stuff out of the ground for our sustainable future. We also invest invest in "services", beauticians, lawyers and tax accountants as the way to create wealth in the future.

  • 100% stealth (Score:5, Informative)

    by lucm ( 889690 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @02:30AM (#55416115)

    a secretive Japanese company

    I'm looking at their YouTube channel, a great way to uncover all the mysteries of that secretive company []

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is pretty cool. I should own shares in the robot that replaces me so I can get paid for its work.

    • That's the utopian version. The dystopian one - which seems more likely to emerge from what we have now - is that a small group will own the robots, the rest of us will be without means to make a living and will be on universal basic income... which most definitely will be as low as possible.
      The utopian version isn't necessarily all that great either. It could end up like communist Russia, or like This Perfect Day [] by Ira Levin. "Control everyone's lives, and you'll eventually get around to controlling
      • by RobinH ( 124750 )
        Shouldn't you also include Brave New World?
        • by mikael ( 484 )

          No, they went the opposite direction. They found everyone a job even if it was manually operating an elevator cab (the Epsilons). Only the really bright people got to make the decisions (Alphas), then others got to supervise others to implement those decisions (Betas, Gammas) and do other menial work (Deltas).

          • by martinX ( 672498 )

            They didn't so much find everyone a job, as design everyone for a job. No more people were made than needed.

  • by bingoUV ( 1066850 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @02:58AM (#55416169)

    Robots building robots? How perverse !

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Robots building robots? How perverse !

      Humans building humans? How perverse ! ; )

    • Just wait until their robots start building robot-building robots ;-)

  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @08:08AM (#55416839)

    Because that's how you get Skynet.

  • Prescience (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bladesinger ( 2420944 ) on Monday October 23, 2017 @08:53AM (#55416957)

    A long time ago this company partnered with General Electric in a mutually beneficial relationship through a so called joint venture company. Some people somewhere had a vision for the future.

    Years later this partnership was dissolved and let there be no doubt that the reason had to do with margins. In the 90s and 2000s software was king. FANUC just wasn't pumping out cash as fast as GE's shareholders would have liked. But the (I would call prescient) folks at FANUC just soldiered on and here we were today. Another lost opportunity because fiduciary responsibility often translates to 'make strategic mistakes to satisfy investors'. Sadly, has GE learned? Activist investors have just recently infiltrated the company so I would say no, nothing has been learned.

    • by jbengt ( 874751 )
      GM was the initial investor that later got out, not GE.
    • Both GE and GM have been partners with Fanuc at different times. The GE relationship indeed was a JV, and there are still some products from GE Intelligent Platforms (the controls BU) that carry the "Fanuc" brand name. However, GM was the original relationship, and GM maintains a strong strategic partnership with Fanuc to this day. Fanuc America's HQ is in Rochester Hills, Michigan, a short drive from Warren, Dearborn, and Auburn Hills.

      I've never seen a robot in a GM plant that was any color other than Fanu

  • Whatever... wake me up when there are factories with robots building robots that builds robots that makes humans.

    Or better yet, don't wake me up... it's comfy in VR space.

  • Not the greatest news for Chinese working class...

The shortest distance between two points is under construction. -- Noelie Alito