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Japan July 2009 Recession hits Robot Makers (both industrial and toy robots)

Tighter finances are injecting a dose of reality into some of Japan’s more fantastic projects — like pet robots and cyborg receptionists — that could cramp innovation long after the economy recovers. “We’ve taken a huge hammering,” said Koji Toshima, president of Yaskawa, Japan’s largest maker of industrial robots.  Profit at the company plunged by two-thirds, to 6.9 billion yen, about $72 million, in the year ended March 20, and it predicts a loss this year.
Across the industry, shipments of industrial robots fell 33 percent in the last quarter of 2008, and 59 percent in the first quarter of 2009, according to the Japan Robot Association.  Tetsuaki Ueda, an analyst at the research firm Fuji Keizai, expects the market to shrink by as much as 40 percent this year. Investment in robots, he said, “has been the first to go as companies protect their human workers.” While robots can be cheaper than flesh-and-blood workers over the long term, the upfront investment costs are much higher.
In 2005, more than 370,000 robots worked at factories across Japan, about 40 percent of the global total, representing 32 robots for every 1,000 manufacturing employees, according to a report by Macquarie Bank. A 2007 government plan for technology policy called for one million industrial robots to be installed by 2025. That will almost certainly not happen.
“The recession has set the robot industry back years,” Mr. Ueda said.
That goes for industrial robots and the more cuddly toy robots. In fact, several of the lovable sort have already become casualties of the recession.
The robot maker Systec Akazawa filed for bankruptcy in January, less than a year after it introduced its miniature PLEN walking robot at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Roborior by Tmsuk — a watermelon-shape house sitter on wheels that rolls around a home and uses infrared sensors to detect suspicious movement and a video camera to transmit images to absent residents — has struggled to find new users. A rental program was scrapped in April because of lack of interest.
Though the company won’t release sale figures, it has sold less than a third of the goal, 3,000 units, it set when Roborior hit the market in 2005, analysts say. There are no plans to manufacture more.
That is a shame, Mariko Ishikawa, a Tmsuk spokesman, says, because busy Japanese in the city could use the Roborior to keep an eye on aging parents in the countryside.
“Roborior is just the kind of robot Japanese society needs in the future,” Ms. Ishikawa said.
Japan’s aging population had given the development of home robots an added imperative. With nearly 25 percent of citizens 65 or older, the country was banking on robots to replenish the work force and to help nurse the elderly.
But sales of a Secom product, My Spoon, a robot with a swiveling, spoon-fitted arm that helps older or disabled people eat, have similarly stalled as caregivers balk at its $4,000 price.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries failed to sell even one of its toddler-size home-helper robots, the Wakamaru, introduced in 2003.
Of course, less practical, novelty robots have fallen on even harder times in the downturn. And that goes for robot makers outside Japan, too.
Ugobe, based in Idaho, is the maker of the cute green Pleo dinosaur robot with a wiggly tail; it filed for bankruptcy protection in April.
Despite selling 100,000 Pleos and earning more than $20 million, the company racked up m
Posted 7/26/2009
Mattel Aug 2007 Mattel recall is a blow to Hong Kong's 'Toy King' Early Light Industrial Co

HONG KONG - Mattel’s latest recall has jolted the business empire of Hong Kong toy tycoon Francis Choi Chee Ming. The billionaire’s Early Light Industrial Co. was named Tuesday by Mattel as the supplier of nearly half a million die-cast vehicles found to contain “impermissible levels of lead,” which can lead to brain damage and other health risks for children.

In addition to those products, which are modeled on the Sarge character in the movie Cars, Mattel is recalling 18.2 million toys made by other suppliers containing magnets that could break off and be swallowed by children. It was the second recall made by Mattel this month involving toys made in China and one of the biggest ever in the toy industry.

The first recall of more than a million toys drove a Hong Kong-based Mattel subcontractor to commit suicide.

Dubbed Hong Kong’s Toy King, Choi runs one of the city’s three leading toy companies, which are the driving force behind China’s recent rise to become the world’s top toy manufacturing center.

Mattel said his company Early Light subcontracted the painting of parts of the Cars toys to another China-based vendor, Hong Li Da. The use of paint containing lead resulted from Hong Li Da’s decision to source paint from a non-authorized third-party supplier, in violation of Mattel’s requirement for it to use paint supplied directly by Early Light.

Born in Guangdong province, which borders Hong Kong, Choi owes much of his rise in business to Mattel. His early days as a sales agent and manufacturer of Snoopy products allowed him to set up Early Light International Holdings in 1994, the core of his toy empire. In recent years, he made bundles of cash by branching out into Hong Kong’s resurgent real estate sector and making bets on pharmaceutical and health products.

He broke into Forbes’ Greater China 40 richest list this year, ranking 38th with a net worth of $1.1 billion, thanks in large parts to canny bets on Hong Kong real estate.

Rather than toying with the small things he produces for Mattel, the 60-year-old Choi is known for his zeal as a luxury car collector. He reportedly owns more than 30 luxury cars with a total value of more than $26 million, including a Pagani Zonda F, Ferrari F550, Carrera GT, Diablo SE and an antique Rolls Royce.

Choi is far from the normal rags-to-riches story in China, boasting an uncommonly extensive education: a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Sussex College of Technology in the U.K., a master’s degree in business administration from Newport University in the U.S. and a PhD in business management from China’s Harbin Institute of Technology.

He recently bought into Hong Kong-listed Town Health International Holdings, becoming its vice chairman.

Both Choi and his designated successor, daughter Carmen Choi, are active in Chinese politics. He serves as a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Both he and his daughter also play a role in politics in Shenzhen.

It was not known yet whether China would slap an export ban on his business, as it did with two other Chinese toy subcontractors behind the recent waves of global recalls. At the very least, Choi may have trouble further expanding his stable of luxury cars.

Posted 8/26/2007
Solidco Industrial Co. Ltd 1980s Space Patrol Egal
FIGURA SPACE PATROL EGAL NUEVA A ESTRENAR AÑOS 80 (Juguetes - Figuras de Acción - Otras Figuras de Acción) 
Posted 8/19/2007
Solidco Industrial Co. Ltd 1980s Space Patrol CODY
FIGURA SPACE PATROL CODY NUEVA A ESTRENAR AÑOS 80 (Juguetes - Figuras de Acción - Otras Figuras de Acción) 
Posted 8/19/2007
Solidco Industrial Co. Ltd 1980s Space Patrol Chief Lancer
FIGURA SPACE PATROL CHIEF LANCER NUEVA A ESTRENAR AÑOS 80 (Juguetes - Figuras de Acción - Otras Figuras de Acción) 
Posted 8/19/2007
Solidco Industrial Co. Ltd 1980s Space Patrol COLT
FIGURA SPACE PATROL COLT SCORT NUEVA A ESTRENAR AÑOS 80 (Juguetes - Figuras de Acción - Otras Figuras de Acción) 
Posted 8/19/2007
Toy Century Industrial Ltd May 2007 Invincibles Transport Converters toy sets recalled (lead paint)
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a voluntary recall for off-road motorcycles manufactured by KTM and action figure sets from Toy Century Industrial Ltd.
 
About 20,000 KTM off-road motorcycles are being recalled due to the possibility a seal around the fuel tank can loosen, allowing fuel to leak and posing a potential fire hazard. KTM said that they have received 5,114 reports of fuel leaks and one report of a minor chemical burn. Motorcycles being recalled are orange and black and include models from 2005, 2006 and 2007.  Specific model numbers can be found on the KTM Web site.
 
The CSPC is also recalling 3,000 Invincibles Transport Converters toy sets. The manufacturer, Toy Century Industrial Ltd., says that the surface paint on the toys contains high levels of lead that can be toxic when ingested. No incidents or injuries have been reported.
 
The CSPC suggests that consumers discontinue use of the products immediately.
Posted 5/27/2007
Toy Century Industrial Ltd. of Hong Kong May 2007 Invincibles Transport Converters Toy Sets RECALLED
AAFES Recalls 'Soldier Bear' Toy Sets

Name of product: Invincibles Transport Converters Toy Sets
Units: About 3,000
Importer/Retailer: AAFES (Army & Air Force Exchange Service) of Dallas, Texas
Manufacturer: Toy Century Industrial Ltd. of Hong Kong
Hazard: Surface paints on the toy action figures contain high levels of lead. Lead is toxic if ingested by young children and can cause adverse health effects.
Incidents/Injuries: None reported.
Description: This recall involves toy sets with multiple action figures and vehicles. The model number (88931), Universal Product Code (6 98567 88931 4) and Soldier Bear logo are printed on the product's packaging. The back of the action figures are marked with letters 'TC-ST.'
Sold at: AAFES stores worldwide from August 2006 through April 2007 for about $20.
Manufactured in: Hong Kong
Remedy: Consumers should immediately take the toys away from children and return the product to the nearest AAFES store for full refund.
Consumer Contact: For additional information, call AAFES at (800) 866-3605 anytime or visit the firm's Web site at www.aafes.com
Posted 5/27/2007
PVC Figures Industrial Painting Process Unveiled!
Following last week’s unveiling of the PVC figure moulding and production process, Hobby Don’s episode now uncovers the secret behind the colouring of our Good Smile Company figures. Watch the video to find out how these flesh-coloured PVC pieces are painted and assembled!

Once again, I shall just summarise the clip for those who either can’t understand, can’t stream or can’t be bothered.
1. The unassembled finished parts are sent to the "Pen You Bu" (Mandarin for Paint Spray Section) for assembly and painting.
2. The parts that have been painted are painstakingly wrapped in white paper to prevent scratches and damage prior to assembly. The example shown seems to be Ureshiko’s skirt.
3. There is quality control (QC) at many stages of production. Each component is thoroughly checked before assembly. This probably contributes to the overall high standards of GSC.
4. The parts that fail QC are touched up with paint if still usable. Those that aren’t are discarded.
5. The painters use normal airbrushes. The type that hobby modellers use. The type depends on the painter’s role. For example, one who does the big parts like umbrella has a much larger airbrush than one who just does the graduations/tones/shadows. Yes, it’s all painted by humans.
6. Now this part is interesting. The mask techniques are surprisingly simple, depending on the type of mask required. Remember how in hobby painting, we use masking tape, which is so labour intensive? These guys use a cardboard box, cut holes in the bottom and stick the parts in, exposing just the surfaces which need to be painted. Ingenious.
7. As for more complicated patterns, for example, that woman’s umbrella, a specialised clamp-like device covers the piece and exposes just the parts which have to be painted.
8. The painters also apply pre-shading to give the effect of more tone. This was sort of made common by Watanabe Max himself, where he sprayed a part black slightly before applying the actual paint coat.

That concludes the spray painting part. The show moves over to the "Yi Yin Che Jian" (Tampo printing Garage). For those not in the loop, tampo printing is a method of painting which is just stamping an ink-covered soft silicone head onto the part. It’s cheap, fast and accurate. I recall having an early article on this.

9. The secret behind PVC figure eyes are revealed! It is not decals as previously thought, but rather multi-layed tampo printing.
10. The tampo presses look like breasts.
11. Almost the entire process is automated here, so the results are very consistent.
12. The eyes and other fine details are done here.
Now it’s the assembly stage.
13. The individual parts are glued here.
14. An extra layer of finish is applied to the panties.
15. Since the parts are painted before they are assembled, the presence of seam lines are inevitable. Here at the assembly stage, some painting is done on the seams to hide them.
16. Another thing is, the colour could be inconsistent for two separate parts. It is also at this stage that a transition paintjob is applied to reduce any obvious non-standardisation in colour.
17. The figures are moved from one station to another via conveyor belt. Like a true assembly line now.

The final stage is packing. Again, it’s all by hand. China does have a lot of people I guess.

18. Each person is responsible for only one step of the packing. Person A puts Takako into her plastic holder. Then conveyor belts it to B who adds the base into th...
Published 1/30/2007
Majestic Inks Tenant for 550,000-SF California Industrial Space - Commercial Property News

Majestic Inks Tenant for 550,000-SF California Industrial Space
Commercial Property News -
... for 16 years," he said, "and we're trying to keep tenants from moving further east, and doing a good job of it so far." Another tenant, Jakks Pacific Inc ...
Published 8/20/2006
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