Frankfurt was the venue for the annual announcement of automation statistics by the International Robotics Federation (IFR). According to the IFR, by 2020, more than 1.7 million new industrial robots will have been installed in factories around the world. Today, the strongest growth in the robotics industry is in Asia – led by China as the world´s number one marketplace.
In terms of units, it is estimated that by 2020 the worldwide stock of operational industrial robots will have increased from about 1,828,000 units at the end of 2016 to 3,053,000 units. This represents an average annual growth rate of 14% between 2018 and 2020.
China in particular has significantly expanded its leading position as the largest market (with South Korea second) with a share of 30% of the total supply in 2016. With sales of about 87,000 industrial robots China came close to the total sales volume of Europe and the Americas combined (97,300 units). In addition, indigenous Chinese robot suppliers continued to expand their home market share to 31% in 2016.
“Robots offer high levels of precision and their connectivity will play a key role in new digital manufacturing environments,” says IFR President Joe Gemma. “Increasing availability enables more and more manufacturers from companies of all sizes to automate.”
With a density of 1,261 installed robots per 10,000 employees, the United States ranked second in 2016 after the Republic of Korea. Germany is the fifth largest robot market in the world and by far the largest in Europe. The annual supply and operational stock of industrial robots in 2016 had a share of 36% and 41% respectively of total robot sales in Europe.
And what of the UK? How much are we investing in order at least to keep the productivity of our regional and international competitors in sight? According to other sources, our investment in robotics is the lowest of the major European economies and we rank just above Thailand in the population of robots per 10,000 employees.
Role of the smart factory
It is no surprise that Industry 4.0, by linking the real-life factory with virtual reality, will play an increasingly important role in global manufacturing. As obstacles like system complexities and data incompatibility are overcome, manufacturers will integrate robots into factory-wide networks of machines and systems. Robot manufacturers are already developing and commercialising new service models based on real-time data collected by sensors which are attached to robots. Analysts predict a rapidly growing market for cloud robotics in which data from one robot is compared to data from other robots in the same or different locations. The cloud network allows these connected robots to perform the same activities and will be used to optimise the robot’s movement (speed, angle or force). Ultimately, the advent of big data in manufacturing and the sharing of it could redefine the industry boundaries between equipment makers and manufacturers.
SMEs to automate?
Some robot manufacturers are also considering leasing models, particularly in order to accelerate adoption by small-to-medium-sized manufacturers (SMEs). Simplification is key: robots which are easier to use and to program and more flexible. This is especially useful for industries with a lack of specialist production engineers in-house.