Yaskawa sees short-term Brexit gain from lower labor costs

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Japanese robot maker Yaskawa Electric sees short-term benefits from Britain’s decision to leave the European Union thanks to lower labor costs for the roughly 150 staff it employs in Scotland, it said on Monday.

Yaskawa, one of the world’s top makers of industrial robots, produces about half the drives and motion-control products it supplies to Europe at its site in Cumbernauld near Glasgow. Executives also said they would make no hasty decisions about the plant.

“Whatever the economic situation might be, we have well- trained people there,” Yaskawa’s European chief, Manfred Stern, told a news conference in Frankfurt near Yaskawa’s European headquarters. “We will have a long-term view.”

“We want to have manufacturing sites close to our customers,” he said, adding that lower labor costs due to the weak pound had so far outweighed higher import costs for parts.

Yaskawa called the news conference to announce plans for a new robot-manufacturing plant in Slovenia to supply customers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa and complement its production bases in Japan and China.

The company wants to be close to the automotive manufacturers which have been flocking to the region. Volkswagen VOWG_p.DE, Hyundai-Kia and other global carmakers have invested heavily in eastern European countries.

“We see the center of Europe shifting eastwards, maybe southeastwards,” Bruno Schnekenburger, Yaskawa’s head of robotics in Europe, said.

About one third of Slovenia’s exports to Germany come from the automotive industry.

The plant will be built in the Ribnica area in central Slovenia, with an investment of about 25 million euros ($27 million). It is due to start production in the fourth quarter of 2018 and will employ more than 200 people by 2023, Yaskawa said.

The company said Slovenia had won out over the other countries on its shortlist - the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia - due to Yaskawa’s existing operations there, strong government and university ties in the country, as well as good shipping routes from the port of Koper. Yaskawa has a small factory in Slovenia which produces robotic cells.

Slovenian State Secretary for Economic Development and Technology, Ales Cantarutti, said he expected Slovenia to contribute between 20 and 25 percent of the investment costs.

Executives said the decision to build a new plant in Europe had been partly influenced by Germany’s leading role in the development of the so-called industrial Internet, where machines can be connected to one another.

Asked about the effect on Yaskawa’s business on the sale of leading German industrial robotics firm Kuka to Chinese home-appliance maker Midea, Yaskawa President Hiroshi Ogasawara said: “China bought Kuka and it was rather perceived as negative. It is positive for Yaskawa - it’s as simple as that.”

($1 = 0.9409 euros)

Reporting by Georgina Prodhan. Editing by Jane Merriman