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Industrial robot sales at an all-time high

Editorial
article image Image courtesy ABB

"In 2013, about 179,000 industrial robots were sold worldwide, again an all-time high and 12 percent more than in 2012," announced Arturo Baroncelli, IFR President.

"Incoming orders in the first four months of 2014 increased remarkably and requests from all customer industries are on the rise. Therefore, we expect that in 2014 growth of unit sales will continue with the same pace like in 2013," stated Baroncelli.

Robot sales reached record levels in Asia/Australia. Almost 100,000 new robots were installed in 2013 in Asia/Australia, 18% more than in 2012.

Automotive and metal industries were the main drivers of the growth. The metal and machinery industry had an average annual growth rate of 22% in the same period. In 2013, robot sales to this industry were up by 17%. 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 main drivers of automation are:
• 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 life-cycles 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.

Easy to use and easy to integrate robots will open up a wide range of new customers and new applications for robots. A main example for this category of robot use is the human-machine-collaboration. The robots working together with the worker in the factory or also in non-manufacturing sectors are capable of understanding human-like instructions (by voice, gesture, graphics) and have modular plug-and-produce components.

This enables people without experience in using robots to program and integrate a robot in the process. But a major challenge of this application is safety, because the robot is working close to the worker without fence.

Lightweight robots with integrated vision guidance and better sensor integration that are more adaptable to their environment have been developed and will still be improved. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is working on a Technical Specification for collaboration of humans and industrial robots in order to provide reliable safety requirements. The break-through of the human-machine collaboration is just beginning.

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