Industrial Robots Smashing Records in Global Sales and Installations
Kagan Pittman posted on October 26, 2018 |
Global sales and installations of industrial robots are on the rise, breaking records across industries and countries. (Image courtesy of International Federation of Robotics.)
Global sales and installations of industrial robots are on the rise, breaking records across industries and countries. (Image courtesy of International Federation of Robotics.)

Robotics is the next industrial revolution and I don’t say this to be dramatic—sales numbers are climbing globally.

According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) World Robotics 2018 report, sales in industrial robotics over 2017 increased by 30 percent versus 2016, with 381,335 units sold overall. This is the fifth year in a row of record breaking global sales. Additionally, the global manufacturing industry had over 2,098,000 industrial robots in operation worldwide in 2017, 15 percent higher than 2016’s record.

The main industrial drivers of this growth were the metal and electronics industries, rising 55 and 33 percent respectively, followed by the automotive industry which increased by 22 percent.

Asia had the dominant share of global sales with 261,800 units in 2017. Europe followed with an increase of 18 percent and 66,300 units. Both regions achieved record sales for the fifth year in a row.

Estimated worldwide annual shipments of industrial robots by region. (Image courtesy of IFR World Robotics 2018.)
Estimated worldwide annual shipments of industrial robots by region. (Image courtesy of IFR World Robotics 2018.)

The Americas saw shipments of 46,100 robots, 12 percent more than in 2016, marking their sixth year in a row of record sales.

China, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States specifically make up 73 percent of global sales volume. Although China has been leading in sales, the United States achieved new records for its seventh year in a row, at 33,192 units, six percent higher than in 2016.

Mexico and Canada are emerging as strong adopters of industrial robotics as well. Mexico’s sales increased by seven percent over its 2016 record, hitting 6,334 units, but Canada saw a dramatic increase of 72 percent to 4,003 units in 2017.

“The record figure of 381,335 industrial robots sold worldwide in 2017 speaks for itself,” wrote Bruno J. Schnekenburger, CEO of the Robotics Division at YASKAWA Europe GmBH, in an editorial for the World Robotics 2018 report. “In this connection it is interesting to note the areas of application of the newly installed robots: automated handling has become the most important submarket over all industries.”

Automotive and Electronics Industries Leading in Robotics Demand

Record sale growth rates country-by-country hints at the growth seen between industries, where growth rates also break records.

Estimated annual supply of industrial robots at year-end worldwide by industry across 2015 to 2017. (Image courtesy of IFR World Robotics 2018.)
Estimated annual supply of industrial robots at year-end worldwide by industry across 2015 to 2017. (Image courtesy of IFR World Robotics 2018.)

In 2017 the automotive industry spiked in sales of industrial robotics, increasing a whopping 22 percent over 2016 records, to almost 125,700 units. Interestingly, the electronics industry isnot far behind these figures.

Robot sales for electronics manufacturers ballooned 33 percent to 121,300 units. The industries growth rate year over year has been outpacing that of the automotive industry with an average annual growth rate of 30 percent on average between 2012 and 2017 and looks set to continue in this range. The Industrial Federation of Robotics credits rising demand for new electronic products, batteries,chips and displaysas driving the need to increase automated production. The bulk of the electronic industry’s sales increase is found throughout Asian countries.

The pharmaceutical and cosmetics, as well as food and beverage industries saw very strong sales increases at 24 and 19 percent respectively over their 2016 sales figures. The metal and machinery industry lead the pack in growth rate, having a shocking increase of 55 percent to a new peak of 44,536 units, doubling their annual average of 26 percent between 2012 and 2017.

The only industry not showing such impressive numbers is the rubber and plastics industry. Having achieved a sales value of 17,300 units in 2015, the industry saw a small slowdown in 2016 at about 16,000 units. The industry bounced back over the 17,000-unit mark for 2017.

Strong sales figures across industries are a boon for robotics suppliers who are clearly offering solutions that are attractive to manufacturers throughout each industry.

The IFR stated in their report that the global market for 2017 saw sales value increase by 21 percent to rest at a peak of USD$16.2 billion. However, the Federation clarifies that this number does not include costs of software, peripherals and systems engineering, which when considered triples the market value to $48 billion.

Robot Density Climbing

Estimated worldwide operational stock of industrial robots 2016-2017 and forecast for 2018 through 2021. (Image courtesy of IFR World Robotics 2018.)
Estimated worldwide operational stock of industrial robots 2016-2017 and forecast for 2018 through 2021. (Image courtesy of IFR World Robotics 2018.)

The World Robotics Industrial Robots report defines “robot density” as “the number of industrial robots in operation per 10,000 persons employed.” This value is effective to establish points of comparison between countries and industries on levels of automation in the manufacturing industry, as well as a breakdown for the automotive and general industries specifically.

The average robot density in the global manufacturing industry in 2017 was 85 robots per 10,000 employees. Europe had the highest average density of 106 units, while the Americas reached 91 and Asia/Australia reached 75.

The Republic of Koreaand Singapore achieved status as the countries with the highest robot densities, with 710 and 658 units respectively.

Robot densities in the automotive industry are significantly higher across all countries. The Republic of Korea achieved the world’s highest record of 2,435 industrial robots per 10,000 employeesin operation in 2017, doubling their 2010 value (1,239).

Other countries to succeed the 1000-unit mark include Canada with a relatively high density of 1,354 units per 10,000 employees, followed by:

  • The United States (1,200);
  • Germany (1,162);
  • Japan (1,158);
  • France (1,156);
  • Austria (1,083);
  • Slovenia (1,075).

The robot density in the general industry iscomparatively low, even when including the electronics industry. The Republic of Korea continued to lead with a density of 533 units per 10,000 employees.Despite relatively lower numbers, the potential for robotics installations in the general industry is high.

Industrial Robotics Going Forward

The IFR’s World Robotics report lists some challenges for the industrial robotics sector, including the need to provide rapid production solutions at competitive prices, prioritizing ease of use and Industry 4.0 compatibility among others.

Combating the stigma of the notion of robots taking peoples jobs is another significant hurdle to achieve higher rates of sales and installations. Dr. Andreas Bauer, chairman of the IFR Industrial Robot Suppliers Committee, believes in the robotics industry’s capability to overcome these hurdles because of robotic automations capability to solve worker shortages in an aging society and meet consumer trends.

“Flexible industrial robot-based automation delivers the solution to all these challenges,” writes Dr. Bauer in a foreword to the World Robotics 2018 report. “That is why in the latest issue of ‘World Robotics’ we see not only a significant rise in the number of robots put into operation, but also an increasing number of new application areas.”

Dr. Bauer cites the social responsibility of the manufacturing industry and robot suppliers to “create better working conditions, to secure more attractive jobs, to sustainably improve productivity and output, and to use resources more efficiently.” If the sales figures of the IFR’s World Robotics report are any indication, manufacturers and robot suppliers are on their way to fulfilling this responsibility.

The IFR’s World Robotics report includes detailed information on the worldwide distribution of industrial robots, structure of distribution in individual countries, a forecast of worldwide investment in industrial robots between 2018 to 2021, an overview of its sources and methods of accumulating data, and more.

For more information, visit the International Federation of Robotics website here. The World Robotics 2018 report can be purchased for download here.


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