Sony Corporation is planning to eliminate humans from its TV manufacturing operations entirely and rely solely on robots by 2023.
That’s according to Kimio Maki, chief of Sony’s electronics business, who told the Financial Times at the weekend that by fully automating its TV production lines at its main factory in Malaysia, it would be able to reduce costs by 70% that year, compared to 2018.
Maki said the reliance on increased factory automation will be combined with more focus on online sales and data analysis to further reduce manufacturing cost. The use of robots would also help to reduce the number of defects in its TV products, he said.
At the same time, Sony plans to come up with more compelling services for its television products that will generate more recurring revenue for the company, which has traditionally been very reliant on hardware sales alone.
Maki said Sony plans to analyse sales data using artificial intelligence-based software to enable it to manage manufacturing volumes more effectively.
“I don’t think automation alone using robots will bring enough merits,” he told the Financial Times. “The key is to use digitalisation to link both sales and manufacturing.”
The push towards automation and digitalisation follows a strong turnaround in Sony’s formerly loss making TV business. The business ran at a loss for more than a decade, but in recent times it has become profitable again thanks to a shift towards smaller volume but higher-end products such as its latest OLED televisions.
Besides its focus on the premium Bravia TV range, Sony is also plotting to come up with more compelling services relating to them that consumers will pay subscriptions for, in order to generate ongoing revenue, Maki said. One example of this is the recently launched Bravia CORE video streaming service, which enables Sony TV owners to access premium content at high bitrates from the company’s Sony Pictures Entertainment studio.
Sony has long been seen as weak in services compared to rival firms, and critics say this is why the Walkman maker lost out to in battle’s with Apple’s iPod on the music front, and Amazon’ kindle in e-readers, despite owning a compelling entertainment portfolio that includes music, films and games.
One way Sony is tackling this perceived weakness is by eliminating the siloed structure within its businesses that inhibits cooperation, Maki told the Financial Times. He explained that Sony has integrated its various electronics businesses into a single unit encompassing TVs, smartphones, cameras and audio products, and spun these off as a separate subsidiary.
“By being brought together under a single entity and governance structure, we are now able to co-operate organically to create something new,” he said. “That applies not only to making products but also purchasing, manufacturing, product development and sales.”
Sony also wants to sell more of its TV hardware to professional users. For instance, it has pitched its new crystal LED displays, based on MicroLED technology, as a superior platform for virtual video production. Alternatively, the modular displays are targeted at commercial applications such as advertising displays.
Sony is also hoping to extend factory automation to areas such as camera and smartphone manufacturing, though in those cases it will continue to use some human workers for the foreseeable future, Maki said.