Thailand's robotics and automation industry is anticipated to expand significantly in the coming years, and the Thailand Board of Investment is making a concerted effort to support robotics companies that establish operations in the country by making them eligible to benefit from the Kingdom's new Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) scheme.
Since starting to promote the EEC over 30 foreign firms in the robotics and automation systems sector have met with the Thai Government and expressed their intention to invest in the country. These have included many well-known companies such as Panasonic, Universal Robot, OTC Daihen, ABB Robotics, Kuka Robotics, Yaskawa Motoman, True Robotics, Okura Yusoki and Gerenga Service. Most of the firms are interested in entering Chon Buri and Rayong, two of the three EEC provinces. (The third is Chachoengsao.)
As the 12th largest vehicle producer in the world and the 1st largest in ASEAN, Thailand is often referred to as the "Detroit of the East" due to its automobile manufacturing output. This industry strength, coupled with the country's strong offering in electronic and electrical appliance manufacturing, also make Thailand one of the foremost robotics and automation global powerhouses. Similarly, its standing as the medical hub of ASEAN allows it the potential to innovate the medical industry; and in food production, another Thai industry strength, possible innovation lies in the use of 'robots' to help automate these functions and increase output. According to International Federation of Robotics, Thailand has the highest growth rate of industrial robots shipment in ASEAN, which is 19% averagely between 2018-2020, and expected to reach 5,000 units in 2020.
"Opportunities in Thailand's robotics and automation industry are fast growing. Having various strong industry sectors, all which either already utilize or will utilize automation and robotics, positions Thailand to lead innovation in this sector," said Mr. Chokedee Kaewsang, Deputy Secretary General, Thailand Board of Investment (BOI).
Thailand's universities are also invested in creating a future workforce for the robotics and automation industry. King Monkut University of Technology's Institute of Field Robotics has undergraduate and graduate programs in robotics engineering. The university recently partnered with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on a project that will anchor robotics research and innovation in kingdom. Other institutions such as Thailand's Innovation Center for Robotics and Automation Systems (iCRAS), which opened in June, will help Thailand capture a significant share of a robotics market expected to grow at a rate of 15% per year in the near future. In total, 76 universities and 83 vocational schools in Thailand produce over 80,000 engineering graduates a year, creating a healthy talent pipeline for companies that choose to relocate or establish a presence in Thailand.
Also Thailand and Japan have entered into a joint agreement to form a consortium for the development of robotics specialists, with the aim of producing at least 1,400 people skilled in the field within three years. The consortium consists of the Industry Ministry, the Technology Promotion Association (Thailand-Japan), the Japan-Thailand Economic Cooperation Society, the Japan External Trade Organization (Jetro) Bangkok, and Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The timeframe for this cooperation is between 2018 and 2021.
The Thailand Board of Investment offers robotics and automation companies several incentives to help them establish operations in the country. These include corporate income tax exemptions of up to 8 years for companies that manufacture automation equipment or robots with engineering design, as well as those with supporting activities such as microelectronics design, embedded software design, industrial software development to support manufacturing, and etc.
"BOI is prepared to provide companies that come to Thailand with the support necessary to flourish," continued Deputy Secretary General Chokedee. "Our talented workforce, excellent quality of life and strong incentives are a natural choice for any robotics companies looking to establish operations in the ASEAN region."
Many robotics and automation companies are already flourishing in Thailand's favorable business climate. ABB Group, a global technology company, is increasing its automation business in Thailand, specifically in its food and beverage applications. This builds on ABB's existing Robot Applications Center, which was established in 2015 and hosts "YuMi", the world's first dual-arm robot. Similarly, Epson joined forces with the Thai-German Institute (TGI) in late 2017 to establish the Epson Robotics Innovation Center and train workers and entrepreneurs alike, as well as offer exhibitions and training in the robotics space.