The International Federation of Robotics released its latest World Robotics Report today, showing a record high 381,000 industrial robots shipped globally in 2017. In addition, with $16.2 billion in sales volume in 2017, global sales have now increased by 114% over the last five years (2013-2017).
In the service robot sector, 2017 saw $6.6 billion in sales volume, an increase of 39% compared to 2016. The IFR saw the strongest demand in the logistics space, accounting for 63% of the total units and 36% of total sales in the “professional service robots” sector.
Looking ahead to 2021, the IFR is projecting that 630,000 industrial robot units will ship in 2021 as systems evolve with emerging technologies such as vision recognition, skill learning, failure prediction, human-machine collaboration, and easier programming.
“Industrial robots are a crucial part of the progress of the manufacturing industry,” said Junji Tsuda, president of the IFR, in a statement. “[New technologies] will help improve productivity of manufacturing and expand the field of robotic application.”
Five countries dominate in robotics
The report indicated that five major markets worldwide represented 73% of the total sales volume in 2017: China, Japan, South Korea, the U.S., and Germany. China saw the highest sales volume in 2017, up 59% compared with 2016. With sales of about 138,000 industrial robots, the sales volume was higher than the total sales volume of Europe and the Americas combined (112,400 units), the IFR said.
However, foreign robot suppliers increased their sales in China by 72% to 103,200 units, the first time that foreign robot suppliers have a higher growth rate than local manufacturers. The IFR said market share for Chinese robot suppliers decreased 31% in 2016 to 25% in 2017.
In Japan, manufacturers produced 56% of the global supply in 2017, making the country the top industrial robot manufacturer, the IFR stated. Export rates increased by 45%, mainly to North America, China, South Korea, and Europe. Inside Japan, robot sales increased by 18% to 45,566 units, “representing the second highest value ever witnessed for this country.”
In South Korea, a reduction of robot installations in the electronics industry resulted in a decrease of robot supplies (down 4%) to 39,732 units. The country still has the highest robot density (robots to humans) in the world, more than eight times the global average, the IFR stated.
In the U.S., robot installations have increased for the seventh year in a row – reaching 33,192 units (up 6% compared to 2016). “Since 2010, the driver of the growth in all manufacturing industries in the U.s. has been the ongoing trend to automate production in order to strengthen the U.S. industries in both domestic and global markets,” the IFR stated.
In Europe, Germany is the top robot market, and the fifth worldwide. Robots sold in Germany increased 7% to 21,404 units, compared to 2016, which is a new all-time record, the IFR stated.
Top industries for industrial robots
Not surprisingly, the automotive industry remained the largest adopter of robots globally, with 33% of the total supply in 2017, and sales increasing 22%. With increasing complexity in building passenger cars, the IFR said “a substantial proportion of the production processes nowadays require automation solutions using robots.”
The IFR predicts that automotive manufacturers will invest in collaborative applications for final assembly and finishing tasks in coming years. As robots become smaller, easier to program and less capital intensive, the IFR said second-tier automotive parts suppliers will likely automate their processes with robots.
Catching up to automotive is the electronics industry, where sales of industrial robots increased by 33%, with 32% of the global supply in 2017. Demand for electronics, the increasing need for batteries, chips, and displays were driving factors in the increased demand for robotics. Because robots can now handle very high parts at higher speeds, with higher degrees of precision, electronics manufacturers can “ensure quality whilst optimizing production costs,” the IFR stated. Improvements in smart end-effectors and vision technologies will also drive demand for electronics manufacturers.
Logistics drives service robot growth
In the IFR’s report on service robots, the organization said about 69,000 logistics systems were installed in 2017, a 162% increase compared to 2016 (26,300 units). Out of those systems, about 6,700 automated guided vehicles were being used in manufacturing environments, and 62,200 were in non-manufacturing environments.
In the service space, medical robots and field robots also posted gains, the IFR said. Sales of medical robots increased to $1.9 billion, representing 29% of the total sales value of professional service robots. Field robots, which mostly comprise milking robots, now account for about 15% of the total value of sales in the service robot sector. While milking robots saw a 2% decrease in market share in 2017, sales of other agricultural robots are on the rise, increasing from 190 units in 2016 to 520 units in 2017.
Personal service robots, which include vacuum cleaning, lawn mowing, and window cleaning systems, is also progressing rapidly, the IFR said. With $2.1 billion in sales, this space saw 8.5 million units sold in 2017. The group admitted, however, that these numbers could be significantly higher, “as the IFR survey is far from having full coverage in this domain.”
“Robotics in personal and domestic applications has experienced strong global growth,” said Martin Hagele, a member of the IFR Service Robot Group and author of the report. “Future product visions point to domestic robots of higher sophistication, capability and value, such as assistive robots for supporting the elderly, for helping out with household chores and for entertainment.”