Photo/IllutrationA robot, right, mimics a worker's precise movements based on data of the person's positions, angles and degrees of force applied, measured by a sensor-equipped device, left, at a robot fair in the West Japan General Exhibition Center in Kita-Kyushu, on June 21. (Kazumi Tako)

KITA-KYUSHU--Robots can accurately mimic skilled factory workers' painstaking craftsmanship faster and in greater detail than ever before with new technology developed by a major industrial machinery company here.

If the technology is put into practical use, it could help robotization at "monozukuri" (conscientious manufacturing) sites in Japan where technical experts are in scarce supply.

It is still rare in the world for technologies to be systematically established to allow robots to move precisely, according to Yaskawa Electric Corp.

Yaskawa has developed what it calls “demonstration and instructions functions,” which work firstly by a skilled person demonstrating their work as a role model for a particular task, such as polishing, using a device equipped with sensors.

Then, shortly after, a robot uses data captured by the sensors to reproduce the expert’s craftsmanship by copying its precise movements. The data includes the worker’s positions, angles, and degrees of force put into each action in the polishing job.

Until now, enabling a robot to carry out such complex work has required users to input a detailed setting with a special device and has taken several days. Furthermore, it had been difficult to reproduce the degrees of force used by skilled workers.

However, it takes only two hours to set up the device with Yaskawa’s new method, enabling the robot to learn particular skills after detecting a person’s movements with the sensors.

Changing manufacturing processes will become easier as a result, according to the company.

Yaskawa has already sold sensors that can detect degrees of force put in by human experts, helping to establish the systematic technology.

Demonstration displays were exhibited by the company during the trade event “Robot industry matching fair Kita-Kyushu,” held from June 21-23 at the West Japan General Exhibition Center in Kita-Kyushu.

The company aims to put the technology into practical use after a series of demonstration experiments in collaboration with small and mid-sized companies.

Demand for robots is increasing at factories due to the lack of labor as the birthrate declines and the population ages, coupled with rising labor costs in emerging nations.

However, tasks like polishing, which requires striking a balance of forces, have so far been difficult to automate and still rely on manpower.