September 01, 2011      

The World Robotics 2011 – Industrial Robots, forecast, published today by the International Federation of Robotics, predicts another substantial rise of 18% in robot sales in 2011 to about 140,000 units – a new peak level. A further increase in industrial robot sales will take place between 2012 and 2014. That increase should total about 6% per year on average, attaining a level of about 167,000 units in 2014.

Meanwhile, the number of robots operating in the factories world-wide will increase to about 1.3 million units at the end of 2014. “However, it is still possible that due to a shortage of components and capacity problems a part of these expected robot installations in 2011 will have to be shifted to 2012”, says Dr. Shinsuke Sakakibara, IFR President. “Certain risks are involved with regard to this rather optimistic forecast, i.e. weakening growth of the world economy or even a new recession caused by financial problems of major markets.”

Automotive industry and electronics industry continue to be the main drivers

The high volume of orders of industrial robots will continue to come from the automotive industry. The establishment of electro mobility, new materials (e.g. carbon composites), and modernization of production processes will be the main drivers for investment. Also, the electrical/electronics industry will continue to invest in capacity and modernization. There is an increasing tendency toward using LCD-television including LED lighting, as well as touch screens, OLED technologies and 3-D-displays e.g. for smart phones. Demand for solar cells will also continue to substantially increase. The nuclear disaster in Fukushima is intensifying the worldwide demand for alternative energy. Investments of all other industries are gaining momentum.

China on top in 2014

The growth in robot installations will continue to take place in the emerging markets and in North America. Robot supply to China will further surge. At least by 2014, China will surpass other countries to top the robot market worldwide in the area of annual supply. Robot sales to the Republic of Korea will only slightly increase after the huge investments in 2010. Investments in Japan will gain momentum as reconstruction and new projects are carried out in the coming months. As a consequence of the disaster in Japan, Japanese companies have been trying to diversify their production geographically. This will result in considerable investments in robot installations in Asian markets as well as in Europe and in North America.

The need to increase the automation of industrial production will continue in the United States. As companies there feel competitive pressures to invest in Robotics

The robot sales in Europe will increase below average because of a rather moderate increase in investment by the western European countries. The robot installations in the eastern and central European countries will surge. Rising wages and the increasing standard of living will also push automation in the still low-wage countries of Eastern and Central Europe as well as in Asia and in South America.

Use of robots is diversifying

The ways in which robots are used s increasing. Consumer products are increasingly individualized with quick time to market (meaning more versions or variants of the goods available for the consumers). This requires flexible automation. Once they are programmed to perform several processes today’s leading edge industrial robots can easily switch from one to the next. Meanwhile, the efficiency of production has been increased in standard applications. Robots and workers interact without a safety fence separating them. The continuing efforts of the robot suppliers are concentrated in further technological improvements.

Evaluation of robot density reveals huge potentials for robot installations

At the end of 2010, only about 50 industrial robots were installed per 10,000 manufacturing workers. Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Germany are the most automated countries in the world with robot densities between 250 and 300, per 10,000 workers. In contrast, less than 20 robots per 10,000 workers are in operation in the large emerging markets of China, India, Russia, and Brazil.

Compared to all other sectors, the rate of automation in the automotive industry is rather high. Japan, has by far the highest robot density in the automotive industry, with more than 1,400 industrial robots installed per 10,000 workers. Japan is followed by Italy, Germany, and the United States, which have robot densities between 1,100 and 1,200.

With a rate of about 200 robots, the Republic of Korea and Japan have the highest number of robots operating in the non-automotive sectors. This is mainly due to robot installations in the electronics industry. In Germany, the considerably high rate of 134 robots is due to a more diversified distribution of industrial robots in all industries, especially in industries such as metals, chemicals, food, and electronics.

In China, the huge robot investments in the recent years have resulted in a substantial increase in the robot density of the automotive industry. Between 2006 and 2010, it was up from 37 to 105 robots per 10,000 workers. Additionally, all other sectors of Chinese industry have increased their robot installations, but the robot density is still below 10. A huge potential for new installations exists in China.

Overall, in almost every one of the surveyed countries, the potential for increased robot installations remains tremendous, but it is also considerably high in the automotive industry among the emerging markets and in some traditional markets as well. This is mostly due to the necessary modernization and retooling that is needed in these markets.

2010: a strong comeback of the robotics industry

In 2010, robot sales almost doubled compared to 2009 to 118,337 units. The automotive industry and the electronics industry were the main drivers of the strong recovery.

Sales recovered by 50% to US$ 5.7 billion, which is still below the value of 2008, one of the industry’s most successful years. Including the cost of software, peripherals, and systems engineering might result in the actual robotic systems market value to be about $17.5 billion in 2010.

Various regions experienced different rates of recovery in robot sales in 2010. Asia (including Australia and New Zealand) was on top with an increase of 132% to about 70,000 units, the highest level ever recorded. The most dynamic markets were China, the Republic of Korea, and the ASEAN countries. Sales to these markets almost tripled. In 2010, the Republic of Korea topped the list with some 23,500 robots sold, a figure placing that nation just ahead of Japan. There, the strong recovery could not compensate for the slump of sales in 2009.

About 17,100 units were shipped to the Americas, 90% more than in 2009, reaching almost the level of 2008. In the United States robot shipments increased by 111% to 14,380 units in 2010 compared to 2009. The main drivers of the growth were the electronics industry and the metals industry, both of which increased their robotics investments considerably in 2010. The automotive industry remained the main customer, but the increase in robot orders was below average.

About 30,600 units were sold in Europe, 50% more than in 2009. This is still about 13% lower than the peak levels of 2007 and 2008. Between 2005 and 2008, a strong trend towards automation boosted robot sales. But, the economic downturn in 2008/2009 put a halt to this upward trend.

In 2010, some 14,000 new industrial robots were supplied to Germany, 65% more than in 2009. After the strong decrease in 2009, this was the third highest number of units ever recorded. The motor vehicle industry was the main driver of the strong recovery, with 172% more industrial robots than in 2009. Also, other big customers, i.e. the automotive parts suppliers, the metals industry, and the rubber and plastics industry ordered almost 50% more robots than in 2009. The food and beverage industry reached a new peak level as well.

In 2010, total robot sales to Italy were up by 57%, to about 4,500 units, after decreasing two years in a row. This was the result of a strong increase of robot sales to the automotive industry. Sales to all other industries grew at below-average rates. 

SOURCE: International Federation of Robotics