With the daily minimum wage rising to 300 baht nationwide on Jan 1, businesses are attempting to lower their production costs by turning to machinery and robots to replace or complement manual labour.
A machinery exhibition attracts interest from more SME operators looking to save costs.
Pornthep Luxsameesathaporn, senior consultant manager at the robot maker Amada Co, said cutting steel by using gas, plasma and wire can be slow and result in an untidy finish.
Using laser cutting means less labour is needed for finishing processes such as welding.
It takes three hours to cut 20 pieces of steel using plasma compared with slightly over an hour for Amada's 24-million-baht laser product from Japan.
The company has seen rising orders since the daily minimum wage rose to 300 baht in Bangkok and some other provinces in April, said Mr Pornthep.
While laser cutting is used mostly in the construction, machinery, elevator and auto-parts sectors, welding robots are becoming popular in the automotive and agriculture sectors.
Chalermphong Sitthikul, the robotic-sales manager at Yaskawa Electric (Thailand) Co, said the company received its first orders from the farm machinery sector last year from Bangkok and other provinces.
Among those was Kubota, which ordered 20-30 robots.
"Thailand has a lot of farm machinery makers," he said.
The company sold 600-700 welding robots last year and expects to sell 500-600 this year.
Next year, it plans to boost sales to 700-800 robots thanks to the growth of the automotive sector, where marques such as Mazda and Ford are producing eco-cars.
"Nowadays, fewer people want to work as welders, as they have to work with heat, resulting in an inability to work for a long period of time, unlike robots. But people have been afraid to invest [in robots] and will do so only when they start facing problems," said Mr Chalermphong.
He said in countries such as Japan, fewer than 100 workers can be found in an automotive company compared with almost 1,000 in Thailand.
Watcharapong Wongvoranet, assistant robotic-sales manager at Yaskawa Electric, said the company has increasingly penetrated the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) market in car accessories, especially in the Northeast.
Currently, 70-80% of the company's sales are to large companies.
"However, SMEs have problems concerning payment, as they want to use the robot first in order to generate money to pay for it. This is the problem every large-scale machinery firm is experiencing," he said.
Mr Watcharapong called on the government to help by providing low-interest loans for SMEs to purchase machinery or by acting as a guarantor.
The starting price for a welding robot has increased from 900,000 baht to 2 million.
Lumboon Simakajornboon, the Thailand unit manager for robotics at Switzerland-based ABB Ltd, said business operators have been increasingly seeking welding robots since the start of this year.
"The wage hike is only one factor, but another thing is the difficulty in finding welders," he said.
ABB has seen annual sales double over the past two years due mainly to the growth in the automotive sector.
This year, ABB plans to sell 200 Swedish-made robots priced from 1-10 million baht apiece, while a complete robotic system costs 10 million baht.
About the author
- Writer: Nanchanok Wongsamuth
Position: News Reporter