Chinese home appliances giant Midea says it has completed its acquisition of German company Kuka, one of the world’s largest industrial robot manufacturers.
While the deal prompted some consternation among those who said the German government should stop the takeover, as well as with those people who subsequently demanded the European Union make it more difficult for Chinese companies to buy EU companies, the two companies are now part of the same group.
Technically, Kuka was acquired by Midea’s subsidiary company, Mecca International.
Midea says the “strategic partnership” which will capitalise on growth opportunities around the world and “unlock the full potential of robotics and automation”.
There have been indications that Midea will utilise Kuka’s know-how to develop new service robots for the home, or “consumer robotics”, as Kuka CEO Till Reuter called them.
Paul Fang, CEO of Midea, says: “Kuka’s global leadership and expertise in the field of robotics and automation, combined with Midea’s exponential global growth, industrial base and logistics operations, and understanding of consumer markets, will enable the creation of intelligent machines and smart factories that usher in a new era of robotics-based manufacturing, with unlimited applications across industries such as process manufacturing, healthcare, smart home, security, and education.”
He adds: “Rising labor costs and an ageing population not only in China but globally offer vast opportunities for Midea and Kuka to improve factory automation in many countries and strengthen Midea’s future manufacturing capabilities.”
And while Midea is probably mainly looking at its home market of China, which is now the world’s largest buyer of industrial robots, the company has been expanding its operations overseas.
Last month, Midea doubled its booth size at IFA Berlin, one of Germany’s longest-established and largest industrial exhibitions, which these days is more of a consumer electronics show.
As well as showcasing its home appliances at the IFA event, Midea highlighted its growing presence in the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning market, or HVAC as it’s called in industry circles.
Midea also established a new joint venture with a North American company called Carrier, which manufactures air-conditioning equipment.
Brando Brandstaeter, head of global brand and communication at Midea, says: “Midea Group has had a strong year of important M&As [mergers and acquisitions] and we have taken significant steps toward becoming a global leader in home appliances, HVAC as well robotics and industrial automation systems due to our increased investment in research and development.
“Midea’s focus has also been on optimizing our product structure with a greater emphasis on customer-centricity.”
As well as the joint venture in North America, Midea has agreed a similar deal back in its home country of China, with another home appliances company which is perhaps more familiar to consumers in Europe and North America, Electrolux.
The Midea-Electrolux partnership will distribute the premium German AEG brand of home appliances.
Meanwhile, in the US, Midea recently opened a research and development centre in Silicon Valley (main picture shows building exterior).
Midea says the facility will concentrate on artificial intelligence, robotics, chips, sensors, and more.
Its idea is to provide technological support Midea’s grand ambition of transforming itself “from a home appliance enterprise to a high-tech industrial leader”.
The Silicon Valley R&D centre – which the company calls an Emerging Technology Center – is part of Midea’s overall expansion in North America which also includes a new customer service center and expanded corporate office spaces.
Midea says it plans to invest $250 million dollars in the Silicon Valley facility over the next five years.
Dr Ziqiang Hu, vice president and chief technology officer of Midea Group, says the company is looking to transport itself into the future.
Dr Hu says: “Technology and innovation never stand still, so it’s essential that Midea keeps driving ahead to remain globally competitive.
“The new ETC will leverage the creative energy in Silicon Valley to help Midea to continue to grow and deliver innovative products to its customers.”
The centre’s manager, Dr Dongyan Wang says his superiors have instructed him to hire locally, which he says he will do.
Wang says: “We will continue to expand our R&D investment, and recruit more local, high-end talent.
“The main focus of the ETC will be on AI technology, including AI for both Midea products – smart home, intelligence manufacturing and robotics and enterprise business applications – sales, marketing, service, supply chain and so on, computer vision, natural language processing, advanced data science, value mining, magnetic suspension – as well as other products research and development.”