International Federation of Robotics (IFR) President Arturo Baroncelli announced at the AUTOMATICA in Munich that the global robotics industry was scaling new heights of performance with new records being created each year in the sales of industrial robots.
A new record was created in 2013 when 179,000 industrial robots were sold worldwide, an all-time high and 12 percent more than in 2012. According to the preliminary results of the IFR world robot statistics, incoming orders in the first four months of 2014 increased remarkably and requests from all customer industries were on the rise. Baroncelli therefore expects growth of unit sales to continue at the same pace in 2014.
Robot sales reached record levels in Asia/Australia, the Americas and Africa in 2013. Almost 100,000 new robots were installed in 2013 in Asia/Australia, 18% more than in 2012. The European market increased by 5% to more than 43,000 units almost reaching the all-time-high of 2011. Robot supplies to the Americas continued to increase by 8% to more than 30,000 units. More than 700 industrial robots were sold in Africa, 87% more than in 2012.
Robot sales by country
Country-wise distribution shows China as the biggest robot market in the world with almost 37,000 industrial robots sold in 2013. Chinese robot suppliers installed about 9,000 units according to the China Robot Industry Alliance (CRIA), three times higher than in 2012 while foreign robot suppliers increased their sales by 20% in China. In 2013, every fifth robot sold in the world was installed in China.
Japan follows at second place in terms of annual sales in 2013, but the country still has the highest number of industrial robots in operation at more than 300,000 units. The predominant robot manufacturing country, Japan produced more than half of the global robot supply of 2013. However, sales of industrial robots decreased by 9% in 2013 to about 26,000 units due to reduced investments of the automotive and the electronics industries in Japan, but exports of Japanese robots increased.
Robot installations in the United States continued to increase by 6% to the peak level of almost 24,000 units, with annual sales increasing by 12% on average per year between 2008 and 2013. The ongoing trend to automate production and strengthen American industries on the global market is a key driver.
Robot sales to the Republic of Korea increased by 10% in 2013 to more than 21,000 units due to increased investments of the automotive industry. The electronics industry, which is the main customer of industrial robots in Korea, reduced its robot orders.
Robot sales to the German market were 4% higher in 2013 compared to 2012 and reached more than 18,000 units, the second highest level ever recorded. The automotive industry was again the driver for the growth.
These four markets represented 50% of the sales volume in 2013.
There was a considerable increase in robot installations in other Asian markets especially in Taiwan, India and Indonesia while important European markets such as Italy and Spain showed recovery. Robot installations in Central and Eastern European countries as well as in Mexico and Canada continued to increase considerably though Brazil lagged behind expectations.
Automotive and metal industries as main drivers of growth
The automotive industry was one of the primary drivers of growth in robot sales with robot investments increasing continuously and considerably between 2010 and 2013 by 22% on average per year. The main countries involved were China, Germany and the United States. In 2013, robot sales to the automotive industry increased by 5%.
The metal and machinery industry also had an average annual growth rate of 22% in the same period with robot sales to this segment up by 17% in 2013. The food industry as well as the pharmaceutical industry increased robot investments substantially in 2013. The electrical/electronics industry, which had reached a peak level in 2013, increased robot orders by 9% in 2014.
The trend towards automation fuels further growth in robot sales. Key drivers of automation include: Energy-efficiency and new materials, e.g. carbon-composites, requiring new productions; Global competiveness requiring increased productivity and higher quality; Growing consumer markets requiring expansion of production capacities; Decreasing lifecycles of products and increasing variety of products requiring flexible automation; Robots improving the quality of work by taking over dangerous, tedious and dirty jobs that are not possible or safe for humans to perform.
The future – new applications and customers
Easy to use and easy to integrate robots will open up a wide range of new customers and new applications for robots. The human-machine collaboration is a leading example for this category of robot use where robots working together with the worker in the factory or in non-manufacturing sectors are capable of understanding human-like instructions (by voice, gesture or graphics). Featuring modular plug-and-produce components, the robots can be easily programmed and integrated in the process even by people without experience.
A major challenge of the human-machine collaboration would however be safety where the robot works close to the worker without a fence. Lightweight robots with integrated vision guidance and better sensor integration that are more adaptable to their environment have been developed and will continue to be improved.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is working on a Technical Specification for collaboration of humans and industrial robots to provide reliable safety requirements.