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Canon is moving manufacturing back to Japan

Robots are taking the upper hand in digital camera manufacturing. Credit: Canon

In a recent announcement Canon indicated the plan to build a manufacturing plant for its single lens reflex digital camera in Miyazaki Prefecture in Japan. This is the first plant being built by Canon in Japan since 2010. Since then Canon moved its manufacturing to low labour cost Countries, like India and Thailand.

The use of robots (along with the increase in labour cost in those Countries) makes domestic production more appealing (and economically viable).

The new plant will have robots taking care of up to 70% of manufacturing decreasing labour cost. The target is to go to full manufacturing automation in the next decade.

This is a general trend. Apple announced in 2012 the intention to move some MacPro manufacturing back to the US. This happened in 2013 but as 2016 several analysts felt concerned that production in the US was not au pair with the one in China in terms of labour skill. Indeed, having robots decreases the number of workers needed but increases the skill level required.

More recently Tim Cook announced a 1 billion funding for advanced US manufacturing.

This is an interesting trend to follow. Robots are clearly taking over manufacturing and shift the economic balance across Countries, making production in high salary level area economically sustainable since the number of workers involved is low. At the same time they require a much more sophisticated labour force that is difficult to find.

Education is lagging behind. Since manufacturing has been moving away from highly developed Countries, manufacturing education has faded away from these Countries and now there is a shortage of skill.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.