Worldwide industrial robot sales reached a record 380,550 units in 2017, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) announced at Automatica 2018 in Munich. That’s a 29 percent increase over the 294,300 units sold in 2016.
These are the initial findings of the IFR’s World Robotics Report 2018. Announced during the IFR CEO Round Table at Automatica, the findings show that China experienced the most growth in industrial robot sales at 58 percent. Industrial robot sales in the USA increased 6 percent, while sales in Germany grew 8 percent compared to 2016.
The automotive industry continues to lead global demand for industrial robot sales, according to the IFR. In 2017, around 125,200 units were sold in this segment for 21 percent growth. Automotive sales are slowing, especially in the US, and some robotics experts expect automation in the sector to follow suit. But Gudrun Litzenberger, General Secretary of the IFR and a 2018 Engelberger Award winner, says automation for the automotive industry is alive and well.
“We have not seen [automotive] slowing down, especially in China,” she says. “[China] is still strongly investing in the automation of car factories. The electric car will be developing more and more and this requires huge battery production. So I think the prospects are very good for automotive automation.”
The other strongest growth sectors in 2017 were the metal industry (54 percent), the electrical/electronics industry (27 percent) and the food industry (19 percent).
Asia has the strongest individual markets: China installed around 138,000 industrial robots in 2017, followed by South Korea with around 40,000 units and Japan with around 38,000 units. In the Americas, the USA is the largest single market with around 33,000 industrial robots sold, and in Europe it is Germany with around 22,000 units sold.
Trends helping industrial robot sales
Litzenberger says trends such as digitalization, robots that are easier to use, robots that learn from each other via the cloud, and improved human-robot collaboration will help continue the growth of worldwide sales.
The IFR says real production is becoming increasingly connected with the virtual data world, opening up completely new possibilities for analysis – right through to machine learning. Robots will acquire new skills through learning processes. At the same time, the industry is working to simplify the handling of robots.
In the future industrial robots will continue to become easier and faster to program using intuitive procedures. Such a technology is not only attractive to established users, but also to small and medium-sized companies, for example, companies who can use it to introduce automation without the need for highly experienced or expert personnel.
This development also paves the way for the third major robotics trend: collaboration between humans and robots without protective barriers offers new approaches to new flexible production processes. In the future human-robot collaboration will support the flexible production of small quantities with high complexity.
“We have to inform people about the fact that robots take over tasks that are dull, dangerous, and dirty,” Litzenberger says. “The younger generation doesn’t want to do these jobs by hand in factories anymore. Robots should do those jobs, and the human workers will take over other jobs.”
Here are some more figures shared during the IFR CEO Round Table: