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thailand factory robots

Robotics and automation reshaping Thailand’s economy, as it looks to sell more industrial robots

Asian country’s government-backed investment organisation talks up ‘Thailand 4.0’, highlighting the industrial robot manufacturing sector, where sales are forecast to increase by 133 per cent from 2,131 units in 2013 to 7,500 units in 2018 – and it’s offering huge tax breaks to achieve it 

Thailand has been doing well as a result of globalisation, but with increasing attention to, and investment in robotics, the country is looking to further accelerate its development. 

Authorities in the country have launched something they call “Thailand 4.0” – based on Industry 4.0 – which essentially refers to the greater levels of internet connectivity in the industrial sector.

And even if the country’s industrial sector has been doing well, greater levels of connectivity would elevate operations to a higher level, or create value, as the authorities see it. 

For Thailand’s government-linked Board of Investment, value creation is the key focus in transforming Thailand under the Thailand 4.0 model.

The BoI says that, in the local manufacturing sector, robotics and automation technology “plays a key role in creating value” – and that’s why it has become a key player in the country’s future.

According to the BoI, over the last three decades, Thailand has become a leader in the global automotive and electronics and electrical appliance industries, which are the two industries that mainly drive global robotics and automation growth in the country.

Thailand claims to be the world’s second-largest global producer and exporter of hard-disk drives, and the world’s sixth-largest commercial vehicle producer.

A large part of that progress is because it has been using robotics and automation technology, says the BoI.

But the BoI says that it is “now time for Thailand to go for more advanced technology” to support the transformation of its economy under the Thailand 4.0 model.

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Changing landscape drives higher demand

Duangjai Asawachintachit, secretary general of Thailand Board of Investment, says: “Advanced technologies are changing the business landscape, especially in the manufacturing sector.

“We now see many companies transitioning into industry 4.0, making use of artificial intelligence, big data management and the Internet of Things to seamlessly work together to exponentially increase both production and productivity.”

The BoI says that, over the past few years, manufacturers in Thailand have “invested heavily” in machinery and systems to increase the utilization of automation system and remain competitive in the global manufacturing arena.

In addition, the BoI says 50 per cent of Thai manufacturers are considering the adoption of automation systems within one to three years while medium-sized businesses will be ready in three to five years, followed by small companies in five years or more.

This development has opened greater opportunities in Thailand’s robotics and automation industry, says the BoI.

The industrial robotics industry in Thailand has expanded dramatically over the past decade due to a strong customer base.

The BoI says the size of Thailand’s shipments of industrial robots is estimated to increase by 133 per cent from 2,131 units in 2013 to 7,500 units in 2018.

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Supporting ecosystem readiness

The BoI says demand is “constantly increasing”, and that Thailand’s infrastructure and ecosystem are ready to support the robotics and automation industry.

The Thai government has previously announced robotics and automation as one of its priority targeted future industries.

To support this policy, educational institutions have provided support for research and development and human resource training.

For example, the Institute of Field Robotics of King Mongkut’s University of Technology, Thonburi, is offering undergraduate and graduate programmes in robotics and automation engineering.

In 2015 alone, 76 universities and 83 vocational schools produced 82,259 graduates in engineering and related courses.

The BoI itself offers a wide range of tax and non-tax investment incentives for projects that meet national development objectives.

Among its measures, the BoI offers up to eight years of corporate income tax exemption on machinery and import duty for raw material for export production.

For projects related to assembling robots or automation equipment or automation parts, investors are offered five-year corporate tax exemption.

Those investing in robotics and automation in Eastern Economic Corridor area will also be given another 50 per cent corporate income tax reduction for another five years.

Meanwhile, other non-tax incentives include permission to bring in expatriates, own land and take or remit foreign currency abroad.


More opportunities explored

For Duangjai, robotics and automation technology also holds out the promise of improvements in healthcare.

She says: “Other than the manufacturing industry, social context also matters.

“Considering that Thailand aims to be the medical hub of Asia and that the country is rapidly becoming an ageing society, service robots that can be integrated with people’s lifestyle are increasingly important.”

The BoI says the country has seen more and more innovations in medical robotics.

They include:

  • Fhasai, robot-assisted therapy for children with autism spectrum disorders;
  • Dinsow, an elderly care robot;
  • Sensible Tab, an arm rehabilitation robot;
  • B-Hive, a pharmacy automation system to refill medicines at a rate of 20 seconds per prescription; and
  • Bumbee, a medical dispenser robot.

Duangjai, says: “We believe in the future of the robotics and automation industry and the benefits it will bring. In the end, we can expect more value being added to the Thai economy.”