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Robots have been a mainstay in factories for decades, but their use has been expanding everywhere else, from warehouses and hospitals to retail. That trend continued last year, and the novel coronavirus pandemic has accelerated service robot demand for automated logistics, disinfection, and delivery, according to the International Federation of Robotics.
The Frankfurt, Germany-based IFR said that the sales value of professional service robots increased by 32% to $11.2 billion (U.S.) worldwide between 2018 and 2019. The organization published its full research in the “World Robotics 2020 – Service Robots” report, which is available for download.
Sales of medical robotics accounted for 47% of the total service robot value turnover in 2019, according to the IFR. This growth was mainly driven by robotic-assisted surgical systems, which are the most expensive type of robot in this segment. Sales hit a new record of $5.3 billion — up 28%. By 2022, medical robot sales could more than double, reaching $11.3 billion. About 90% of medical robots are from North American and European suppliers, said the IFR.
Logistics market doubles
The market value of logistics robots sold or leased increased 110%, to $1.9 billion, reported the IFR. Almost all of the logistics turnover was generated with service robot designs for indoor use. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) have initially been used in warehouses, but with digitalization of production, they are also part of today’s smart factory. Therefore, a continued strong turnover growth of 40% or more per year seems possible, speculated the organization.
“The investment in service robots for logistics in manufacturing processes is amortized rapidly,” stated Milton Guerry, president of the IFR. “Assuming 24-hour operation, the investment in service robots for logistics may be repaid within two to three years, and often much quicker. Given a 15-year lifetime, operating costs are around 5% of the annual investment. Highly developed systems often provide operational availability in the 98% plus range.”
In addition, the trend toward Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) business models can lower the service robot adoption hurdle for customers, said the IFR. The benefit is not to invest in hardware, so the companies have no fixed capital, no fixed costs and no need for robot operators.
The use of logistics systems in non-manufacturing industries has been strongly driven by warehouse solutions for major e-commerce companies. A strong potential can also be found in hospitals running their logistics with the help of professional service robots. In that service robot segment, about 90% of the sampled logistics robots were produced in Europe and North America, and about 10% in Asia.
Field robotics grows modestly
The segment of field robotics consists of robots for agriculture, dairy, livestock farming, and other applications. Sales value increased by 3% to $1.3 billion. The COVID-19 pandemic could affect workforces and demand for such robots, noted the IFR.
For instance, travel restrictions for workers from Eastern Europe who usually travel to Western Europe in harvest season, caused a shortage of labor supply. Farmers might compensate this with the use of field robots. Sales value growth rates of more than 30% for agricultural robots seem possible.
Household service robot market cleans up
Service robots for personal and domestic use, which are produced for a mass market, are mainly in the areas of household robots. This include vacuuming and floor cleaning robots, lawn-mowing robots or entertainment robots.
The total number of service robots for personal and domestic use increased by 34% to more than 23.2 million units sold in 2019. The value was up 20% to $5.7 billion. Unit prices for the two major segments, robot vacuums and toy robots, have been declining in recent years.
Today, basic robot vacuums are already available for less than $100, said the IFR. Seventy-five percent of the sampled domestic service robots — vacuum and floor cleaners, lawn mowers and other domestic robots — were produced by American companies in 2019. Asian companies had a share of 19%, and European companies made 6%.
Assistive robots for older people or people with handicaps are another area of growth, said the IFR. The estimated sales value increased by 17% to $91 million. National research projects in many countries are focus on this potentially huge market for service robots. In contrast to most entertainment robots, these robots are high-tech products.
“We expect sales of both professional and personal service robots will continue to increase strongly,” said Guerry.