(Reuters) - Companies across eastern Europe are ramping up investment in factory automation to cope with a labor shortage that started after the 2008 financial crisis and after curbs on worker flows to richer parts of the European Union were lifted in 2011.
The Frankfurt-based International Federation of Robotics (IFR) estimates that 9,900 robots were installed in the Central and Eastern European region last year, a 28 percent increase from the year earlier.
Robot density in 2016, a measure of multipurpose industrial robots per 10,000 workers in the manufacturing sector, was the highest in Slovakia at 135, followed by 101 in the Czech Republic, 57 in Hungary and 32 in Poland, IFR said.
Following are details from companies in Hungary about recent investments into automation and their suppliers.
* Vesz-Mont 2000
Company profile: factory automation systems
2016 revenues: 4.26 billion forints ($17.01 million)
Suppliers: Denmark-based Universal Robots, Japanese Yamaha Motor Co (7272.T), Mitsubishi Electric Corp (6503.T), Fanuc Corp (6954.T) and Omron Corp (6645.T), and Germany-based Kuka AG (KU2G.DE), majority-owned by China’s Midea Group Co (000333.SZ)
Supplier outlook: Yamaha Motor Co said its industrial robot sales to Hungary rose by 150 percent last year from a year earlier and by 120 to 130 percent in the wider Eastern European region.
“We believe that the demands are increasing as sharply as the last few years, maybe much more,” said International Sales Manager for Factory Automation Shinji Kuroda.
Omron said income from its east European orders rose by 55 percent year-on-year, driven in part by the labor shortage but also by the need to improve productivity and production quality.
“Outlook for East Europe is very positive. Our expectations are for the robot sales growth on mid-term 30 percent per year,” the company said in an email.
“As the main market for our robots are Automotive and F&B (Food and Beverage) companies, the real development will depend on their business environment in the coming period.
“Omron is going to open soon a Robot Laboratory for East Europe, located in Katowice (Poland). The new facility will provide training on robots in general and doing PoC (Proof of Concept) for the customers.”
* Hirtenberger Automotive Safety
Company profile: car safety equipment
2016 revenues: 14.15 billion forints ($56.51 million)
Amount invested: about 2.5 million euros
Suppliers: Mitsubishi Electric robots, Collischan weight controllers, Cognex Corporation (CGNX.O) machine vision systems, Engel plastic overmolding machines, one Kuka AG robot
Impact: The company boosted output of micro gas generators for seat belt pre-tensioners and in the linked process of igniter overmolding by 2.5-times compared to previous levels. The investments have also enabled it to assign 35 employees to other tasks in the factory.
Supplier outlook: Mitsubishi Electric expects further growth of about 110 to 130 percent for the robotics market in the Eastern European region until at least the end of its next fiscal year, March 31, 2019, spokesman Niels Meinke said.
“Some of the key industries in the Eastern European region where we are seeing demand and that are at the same time reported to be investing in industrial robots and automation are Food & Beverage, Automotive and the Life Science industries.”
Collischan and Cognex declined comment.
* Terran Tetocserep Gyarto
Company profile: roof tiles
2016 revenues: 7.13 billion forints
Employees: 203 domestic and 86 workers at foreign units
Amount invested: 700,000 euros spent on robots and ancillary production and packaging equipment and 200,000 euros on building and infrastructure
Supplier: Kuka AG
Impact: The company says it boosted productivity and efficiency in repetitive tasks such as packaging and production; the new technology supplanted 10-12 workers per shift, who have been transferred to other areas of production.
The investment has also enabled the company to launch more shifts, taking advantage of a booming construction sector in Hungary.
* Dinax Water Treatment
Company profile: water treatment chemicals
2016 revenues: 666.28 million forints ($2.66 million)
Amount invested: 4.5 million forints, with another 5 million in the pipeline for further automation
Suppliers: programmable weight controllers from Rice Lake, Wisconsin-based Rice Lake Weighing Systems, peristaltic pumps from Jacksonville, Florida-based Stenner Pump Co.
Impact: The company can now fill 50 percent more of its main products, sodium hypochlorite and sulphuric acid, into plastic containers, saving the work of two people per day.
Supplier outlook: “Automation is becoming a necessity for more and more companies in the process, manufacturing, logistics and other industries,” said Walter Hendriks, Rice Lake Weighing Systems Managing Director.
“We just invested in a new sales force to expand more aggressively, responding to the strong economical growth. So, we will create a higher rate of expansion over the next years.”
Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall