Industrial robots: Usage up 30% worldwide, led by Asia and Europe

Industrial robots: Usage up 30% worldwide, led by Asia and Europe

Internet of Business says

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) has published its annual report on the state of the industrial robotics market worldwide.

It finds that 2017 sales of industrial robots increased by 30 percent year on year to 381,335 units, the fifth year of record growth. The main drivers were the metal industry (with 55 percent higher demand than in 2016) and the electronics sector (32 percent).

Robot sales to automotive manufacturers increased by 22 percent to a new peak of nearly 125,700 units. Carmakers remained the biggest customers for industrial robots last year – just – with a one-third share of the total supply.

After the economic crisis in 2008-09, auto manufacturers started to restructure their businesses, leading to rising numbers of robot installations. Between 2012 and 2017, robot sales to the automotive industry increased by 14 percent a year on average.

Asia dominates growth

Asia remains the world’s strongest growth market for industrial robots overall, according to the IFR, with 261,800 units sold in 2017.

Industrial robot sales in the second largest market, Europe, increased by 18 percent to 66,300 units. About 46,100 industrial robots were shipped to the Americas, 12 percent more than in 2016, establishing a new peak there for the sixth year in a row.

According to the IFR, just five major markets represented nearly three-quarters of all worldwide sales in 2017: China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the US, and Germany.

Since 2013, China has been the world’s biggest robot market with “continued dynamic growth” and a 36 percent share of the world’s total supply in 2017.

About 137,900 industrial robots were sold to China in 2017, 59 percent more than in 2016. This was considerably more than the combined total sales volume of Europe and the Americas (112,400 units).

But not all of that growth was at the expense of other countries, says the IFR. About 34,700 units were sold by Chinese robot manufacturers in China last year, while overseas suppliers increased their sales by 72 percent to 103,200 units.

This is the first time that foreign robot suppliers had a higher growth rate in China than local ones.

Robot density: the real measure

But China is far from the leading country in terms of robot density – the number of robots per 10,000 employees, IFR’s preferred measurement for comparing the relative sizes of the market in different economies.

Europe is the region with the highest robot density, with an average of 106 units. In the Americas, robot density is 91 units and in Asia/Australia it is 75 units.

However, the countries with by far the highest robot densities are the Republic of Korea (South Korea, 710 robots per 10,000 employees, principally in the manufacturing sector) and Singapore (658 robots per 10,000 workers, mainly in the electronics industry).

In short, roughly 0.7 in 10 workers in these two countries are robots, with each one able to do the jobs of roughly 15 people, non-stop.

Compared to Germany (322 robots per 10,000 employees) and Japan (308), the gap is remarkable – especially since Japan had the world’s highest robot density in 2009.

In 2009, China had just 11 units installed per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing sector, so its 2017 density of 97 had increased by almost a factor of 10.

South Korea’s challenge

The message is clear: South Korea remains by far the most automated country on Earth, but China is automating faster than any other nation and is now the world’s biggest market. In 2018 and 2019, IFR forecasts continued industrial robot growth in China of 20 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

That said, industrial robot sales in the Republic of Korea decreased by four percent to 39,732 units in 2017. According to the IFR, the main cause of this decline was the electronics industry, which reduced robot installations by 18 percent in 2017.

By contrast, between 2012 and 2017 average robot sales increased by 15 percent a year in South Korea. The IFR forecasts growth of just three to four percent there over the next three years.

Robot installations in the US increased to a new peak of 33,192 units in 2017 – the seventh successive year of growth, and six percent higher than in 2016. Since 2010, the main driver of this trend has been the need to strengthen US industries at home and abroad.

IFR forecast US industrial robot growth of five percent this year, rising to 10 percent between 2019 and 2021.

The European dimension

But overall, Europe is doing better than the Americas, says the IFR.

Germany is currently the fifth largest robot market. In 2017, the number of robots sold there increased by seven percent to 21,404 units. Between 2014 and 2016, annual sales of industrial robots stagnated at around 20,000 units in the country, so the shift represents a renewed drive to automate in German industry.

The IFR forecasts continued annual industrial robot growth of five percent in Germany over the next three years.

Elsewhere in Europe, robot investments increased by 19 percent to a new record of 7,700 units last year in Italy. The French robot market, meanwhile, was up by 16 percent to a new peak of about 4,900 units. In Spain, sales of industrial robots increased to 4,200.

The UK bought just 2,334 robots in 2017, up from 1,787 in 2016. That figure represents growth of 31 percent, but the IFR forecasts that UK sales will now grow at a modest three percent a year until 2021.

Industrial robot sales in all Western European countries rose, except in Austria and Portugal.

Taiwan and Vietnam

Since 2013, Taiwan has ranked sixth among the most important robot markets in the world. There, robot installations increased considerably between 2012 and 2017, by 26 percent a year on average.

In 2017, Vietnam became the seventh largest robot market in the world. Robot sales jumped from about 1,600 units in 2016 to almost 8,300 units in 2017, with the main driver again being the electronics sector.

Robot sales to the /electronics industry worldwide (including computers, radio, TV and communication devices, medical equipment, and precision or optical instruments) have been significantly up since 2013 and are now almost at the same level as the automotive industry.

In 2017, sales in the sector increased by 33 percent to a new peak of 121,300 units – over 32 percent of the total supply in 2017. Between 2012 and 2017, the average annual growth rate was 30 percent.

The rising demand for electronic products, the need to automate production, and the increasing need for batteries, chips, and displays, were the driving forces behind the boost in sales in an industry where production is mainly located in Asia.

The IFR has also produced an annual report on the service robotics market, which finds that 2017 sales in the sector leapt by 85 percent year on year. For more on this, read this separate report by Chris Middleton.

Industrial robot shipments worldwide