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Hyundai Motor Group acquired Boston Dynamics, a U.S.-based robot company that developed Spot, for 1.1 billion dollars in June 2021. It was the biggest M&A since Chairman Chung took office in October 2020. While Spot garnered attention every time it appeared in front of the public, there hasn’t been much news on significant progress in the robotics industry. Some even joked that Spot is a trillion-won guide dog and that the biggest source of profit for the robot industry is YouTube since Boston Dynamics’s YouTube channel has 3.19 million subscribers.
Spot reappeared in Singapore last month. Spot will be hired as a full-time employee at the Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Centre Singapore (HMGICS). Each of the two Spots followed around an operator in a cell. Once the human operator finishes his tasks, 15 pictures are taken and the assembly of 38 parts is inspected. The pictures taken by Spot are transferred to a computer and reviewed for any defect by artificial intelligence in real time. Chung’s vision of utilizing robotics as a means for humans became realized.
Spot is not the only example of production innovation at the HMGICS. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) transfer car bodies assembled in each cell. Any issues in the production process are identified and corrected in real time by utilizing digital twin, which refers to a digital copy of the entire plant. What’s most notable is that the center abandoned the conveyor belt method, which enabled the current automobile industry and is designed with the cell system to accept various demands for future mobility.
Due to their production efficiency, Hyundai Motor Company and other South Korean companies, such as Samsung and LG, have succeeded with the fast-follower strategy. The cheap yet diligent workforce was behind their growth in the 1970s and 1980s, just like right now for Southeast Asian companies. Rigorous supply chain management drove their competitiveness in the 1990s and 2000s. Since the 2010s, however, labor has become expensive, and labor regulations have held them back in South Korea. For supply chain management, the power of nations became more important than the competitiveness of individual companies. The attractiveness of products ‘made in Korea’ and ‘made by Korea’ lessened in the global manufacturing market.
This is why the news of the HMGICS utilizing Spot is welcoming. The HMGICS will be used as a test bed for production innovation, which means what’s successful at the center will be proactively deployed to new plants both in South Korea and abroad.
The South Korean Company can rewrite the success story of Ford Motor Company, which dominated the world’s automobile industry with the conveyor belt. I look forward to the day when Spot becomes the symbol of such a revolution.