Developing the Robots of the Future
Nachi Robotic Systems
Nachi is a name synonymous with cutting-edge technologies, partnered with value and service. Nachi Robotic Systems Inc. is owned by the Nachi Fujikoshi Corporation, which itself has been in existence for almost ninety years. Its longevity and endurance is a testament to the skill and business acumen found there. Nachi Robotic Systems, by comparison, is relatively new yet is fast approaching thirty years in the American market.
“We are the robotics division of Nachi operating in the United States. That is our mission here,” says Executive Coordinator Michael Bomya. “The first Nachi America opened in 1962, but robotics opened here in 1989. Historically, Nachi has always been vertically integrated in the sense of making products or opening new product areas which were needed by other divisions. Robots really started out as a fusion between the machine tool division and the hydraulics division. As you know, in the sixties when robots were first developed, they were all hydraulic, and Nachi was no different.”
The company began a robotics division in America primarily because it was felt that opportunities were not being taken in the United States. Distributor agreements and foreign competitors were part of the business when the parent company began to reach into the market.
“Nachi opened in the United States in 1989 because they had already been selling into the U.S. market through a distributor agreement, and also, Japanese companies were opening (U.S.) auto plants at that time. Some of those had Nachi robots installed, so there was a demand for local support.”
Since some companies experience teething issues on start-up, having the support of a global corporation is hugely beneficial. However, Nachi could not rely solely on its Japanese headquarters, so business contracts were needed to ensure that the robotics division could prove itself as a viable and worthwhile venture.
“I think Nachi started quite nicely in the U.S. There had been pressure on them to open in 1989 from some of the Japanese companies that were operating in the U.S. at that time. Also, Nachi got the first order for robots from Chrysler corporation, and so the challenge in those early days was to grow and nurture that business. That led to a local demand as well as a demand from Japanese businesses.”
While landing a large contract early in its life certainly helped Nachi get off the ground in America, Michael says that the company benefited from being a relatively small operation at first. This, he says, allowed the division to grow at its own pace and without undue pressure.
“The robot division in those days was quite a small portion of the revenue. So in some sense, I think it was kind of considered a junior division which didn’t draw as much attention. Of course, there was a lot of excitement about the technology, and there were certainly expectations for the division to grow, but I think some of the larger divisions had a lot more scrutiny and pressure than the smaller groups in the company.”
The robotics industry in America has developed rapidly over the past thirty years. Its origins lie largely in the automotive sector, while other fields have historically been slower to take up robotics technology – something that is now “changing rapidly as many industries are moving into robot based manufacturing solutions,” says Michael. Nachi has benefited from these developments and has ridden the wave of automotive companies that have gradually recognized the value and benefit of robotics.
“Really, the adoption of robotics by the auto companies has been the big story in the last thirty years. In the automotive industry, particularly in the body shop and the paint shop, robotic automation has become rapidly accepted, and it is now a completely standard part of the process. As a result, this has traditionally driven about seventy percent of the market in North America.”
Even today, Michael feels that the automotive sector still represents a very significant portion of the demand for robotics in America. “It was sixty-two percent of demand in 2015. In a sense, that points to the fact that we are beginning to see much more widespread adoption throughout industry in North America. However, I would say that in the past thirty years, the adoption of robotics outside of the automotive industry has been pretty slow. It is difficult to characterize why this is. One area that really took off though was electronics. It grew thirty-five percent year over year in 2014-2015.”
The backing of its parent company certainly aids in the area of product development. Nachi is in the enviable position of being able to use existing technologies to meet the demands of its customers. The company is also able to develop new technologies whenever necessary, due in no small part to its in-house R&D department.
“The technologies are not really widely applicable, but we recently started business with a new customer that makes metal products, completely unrelated to automotive, but because of welding being one of their primary applications, we have had all of those products for years. However, with another customer, we were basically required to develop an arm type that we had never had before.”
Nachi is reaping the benefits of a growing need for robotics in multiple industries. This, in itself, has given the company challenges which it must meet.
“As those other industries are beginning to use robots, the challenge for us now is to develop the right products at competitive prices and to learn the new types of applications and automations and processes that are required in those industries. If you have been in the robot business for the past thirty years, you could probably assemble a car with your eyes closed, but in terms of food processing or other areas such as electronic assembly, those are new processes which require new robot types.”
Michael is adamant that Nachi has the in-house ability to meet these challenges head on. The company is in a prime position to expand its products and services to meet the growing needs with a multi-industry focus. He identifies adaptability as a key characteristic of the company which will allow it to develop and grow.
“Flexibility is required in these industries. I view this in two ways: the flexibility of our people, so that we can quickly learn and adapt to these new processes and products, but also the flexibility of the product, that it can be reapplied or repurposed easily. Everything has a cost consideration that goes with it.”
Being able to grow from the small junior division almost thirty years ago, to leading the way in the robotics field in the United States, makes it clear that Nachi Robotic Systems will remain at the cutting edge of the industry for many years to come.