Sony reimagines its factory lines to be driven by robots

Installing unmanned production lines was expected to cut 70% of the cost at Sony’s mainstay TV factory.
12 July 2021

Robots will soon take over Sony manufacturing lines. Source: (Photo by JIMIN LAI / AFP)

  • Sony Corp. predicts that robots will take over its manufacturing of televisions, smartphones, and cameras
  • The acceleration of factory automation will also reduce product defects
  • Sales data will be analyzed using artificial intelligence to more effectively set manufacturing volume

There was a time when Sony Corp, which once defined Japan’s technological prowess, wowed the world with then-groundbreaking innovations like the Walkman, the Trinitron TV, and bold acquisitions like Columbia Pictures. It wasn’t too long after that the company was in the fight of its survival. Sony dominated the electronics industry since its conception in 1960 all through towards the end of the 20th century. These days however, the company is trying to cut costs and boost digital services by incorporating robots into its manufacturing line.

The struggles faced by Sony throughout the mid to late-2000s were widely known, which eventually led to a fading brand image. There are several reasons for Sony’s decline from the top of the consumer electronics industry. Experts have long discussed the company’s inability to maneuver in the wake of disruptive and transformational changes coupled with inconsistency in branding practices would be the two primary ones.

No doubt, Sony as a company, has given birth to some iconic brands in its heyday, which include the Walkman, Discman, Trinitron TV, and more recently the PlayStation. Head of Sony’s electronics businesses Kimio Maki told The Financial Times (FT) recently that while the company would continue selling hardware and services to consumers, a meaningful part of its growth target would come from products for professional use, such as crystal LED displays for virtual video production and ball-tracking technology for the sports entertainment sector. In the long term, the electronics chief said Sony also wants to target robots within the entertainment space for automotive vehicles.  

Sony embracing robots for biz sustainability

What made headlines over the weekend was when Maki told the FT that Sony predicts robots will take over its manufacturing operations for consumer electronic products such as televisions, smartphones and cameras as the company shifts attention to services that in the long run will drive sales of its flagging consumer devices, by lowering maker costs. He even shared the acceleration of factory automation would be combined with a greater focus on online sales and data analysis to slash manufacturing overheads. Maki added that automation on this scale would also help reduce product defects.  

“I don’t think automation alone using robots will bring enough merits. The key is to use digitalization to link both sales and manufacturing,” Maki added. Furthermore, unmanned production lines are expected to cut costs by 70% at Sony’s mainstay TV factory in Malaysia by the fiscal year 2023 in comparison with 2018, Maki said. To top it off,  the plan will be carried out in conjunction with a renewed focus on data-driven insights as well as omnichannel sales including e-commerce. Maki said sales data will be analyzed using artificial intelligence to more effectively set manufacturing volume.

The digitalization push to optimize cost efficiencies is timely as Sony pivots to implement new strategies in the wake of continued slumping revenue performances. For more than a decade, the group has stemmed TV losses and steadied its financial performance by shifting to producing smaller volume, but higher-end products. Inevitably, the path back to relevance for Sony will be a long and arduous one as it has to regain ground on many different aspects, while also competing with significantly strong and established brand names.