Annual industrial robotics report predicts a bright future

By Glenn Johnson, Editor
Monday, 21 October, 2013

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) has recently released its annual study of world industrial robot trends. The World Robotics 2013 - Industrial Robots report predicts that the high demand for industrial robots will continue through to at least 2016.

The report predicts that global robot sales will increase by 2% to 162,000 units for 2013, and that between 2014 and 2016, worldwide robot sales will increase by an average of 6% per annum, resulting in the annual supply of industrial robots to exceed 190,000 units in 2016.

“The growth is based on the huge potential for further penetration in the industrial segments like electronics or food and on the ongoing industrialisation of emerging countries. But there are additional growth potentials in the future based on advanced and innovative technological developments,” commented Dr Andreas Bauer, chairman of the IFR Industrial Robot Suppliers Group. “These technologies are opening doors to completely new applications for robots. Impressive for me are the developments regarding human-robot cooperation and opportunities that are provided in new fields for automation, especially in areas where no robots are currently used.”

Industries and regions

But growth will depend on region and industry. The demand from the automotive industry is expected to slow down in certain markets after three years of continued increasing robot installations. However, the electrical/electronics industry will increase robot investments in production automation as well as in retooling for new production processes. A further increase in robot orders is also expected from other industries, particularly from the pharmaceutical industry, the food and beverage industry, and the metal and machinery industry.

Growth of robot sales is expected in North America, Brazil, the Republic of Korea, China, in most of all other Southeast Asian markets as well as in most of the Central and Eastern European markets, and in Turkey. Robot sales to Japan will decrease due to the continuing weak economic position of its electronics industry, and in Germany a decrease in robot sales is likely after the significant robot investments of the automotive industry over the past three years. The United Kingdom is in a similar situation and will also have a reduction in robot installations in 2013. Also, due to the continuing tight economic situation, robot sales will either decrease or stagnate in Italy, France and Spain. However, due to the more complex robot systems entering the market, the increase in turnover might still be higher, just as in 2011 and 2012.

China is a special case. Between 2005 and 2012, sales of industrial robots to China have increased by about 25% on average per year and reached 23,000 units in 2012, and these figures do not include sales of local Chinese robot manufacturers, who over 2011-12 sold about 5300 units. In addition, Taiwanese company Foxconn Electronics is producing robots for its own use in its manufacturing plants in China, and the figures for these are large, but vague, ranging from 10,000 units to 30,000 units over the last few years. The total number of robots installed in China can therefore be estimated to be between 28,000 and 35,000 units in 2012, making China the largest robot market in 2012.

The reports states that Chinese robot manufacturers will increase their robot production in the near future and robot suppliers from abroad will increase assembly of robots in China, so that China is already one of the biggest markets and offers great potential for robot suppliers in the coming years.

Challenges and opportunities

The report identifies a number of challenges that represent opportunities for the industrial robotics industry.

Cost-efficiency requirements drive higher levels of automation globally and growing consumer markets are requiring expansion of production and greater flexibility, due to decreasing product life cycles and the increasing demand for product variety.

Technical improvements in industrial robots will increase the use of robots in general industry and in small and medium-sized companies. Robots are becoming easier to use for simple applications and recent developments in collaboration between robots and humans are offering the potential for new applications.

Improved product quality increasingly requires more sophisticated robot systems and robots are already improving the quality of work by taking over dangerous, tedious and dirty jobs that are not possible or safe for humans to perform.

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