Sporting molded plastic front covers marked “11” and “12”, two humanoid robots nimbly labor away on an assembly line at a make-up factory in Shizuoka Prefecture.
The scene is part of a pilot project launched by Shiseido Corp. this month to establish a new type of manufacturing system that combines human workers with humanoids.
Under the system, the robots take on complex processes such as assembling cases and affixing labels, while the human worker handles tasks requiring judgment, such as inspecting their handiwork for flaws.
The company said such a hybrid system has become increasingly necessary in the cosmetics industry as consumer needs diversify, increasing in turn the number of tasks required to produce a certain volume of product.
“For makeup products in particular, their manufacturing process involves numerous materials and components, and the processes… are complicated,” the company said in a press release on March 23. “At the same time, companies heavily count on on-site workers for in-process inspection, which relies on human sensibilities and cannot be replaced with machines.
The system also addresses the issue of a shrinking labor force in Japan, reducing the burden on human resources.
The company said it is the first time in the world that humanoid robots have been used on an assembly line in the cosmetics industry.
The project was among more than 100 such initiatives adopted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry for its “FY201 Demonstration Project for the Introduction of Robots”.
The ministry’s New Robot Strategy, established in 2015, seeks to revitalize the economy by establishing Japan as a “center for the utilization of the world’s state of the art robot technology”.
The devices were made by leading mechatronics developer GLORY Ltd. Humanoid robots are expected to play an increasing role in such areas as picking and sorting parts, disc assembly, working under high-temperature conditions, inspecting bridges, and serving as guides at airports.
A video of GLORY’s “NEXTAGE” robot at work on an assembly line can be seen here.