The International Federation of Robotics released their annual update on market trends. Their new World Robotics Report on industrial robotics shows that the number of units sold increased by 30% yoy in 2017, to reach a record high of 381,000 units, at the same time sales value increased by 21% suggesting the cost per robot continues to fall. Annual sales volume increased by 114% over the previous five years (2013-2017). In 2017, China represented 36% of the total demand of which 72% was met by international robot suppliers. China has been the main buyer of industrial robots for years as they come from a position of relatively low robot density, and it is also the first time that international suppliers have grown faster than local manufacturers. Japan’s manufacturers delivered 56% of the global supply in 2017. The automotive industry remained the largest buyer of industrial robots with 33% of the total demand. They expect to invest into collaborative applications (co-bots) for final assembly. The electrical/electronics industry represented 32% to the total demand. Smart end-effectors and computer vision have continued to expand the range of tasks that robots can perform. The metal industry grew by 55% to reach 10% of the total demand, supported by ongoing demand for cobalt and lithium for electric car batteries.
The average world robot density increased from 74 to 85 units per 10,000 employees globally between 2016 and 2017, but there are still significant disparities between countries. The report also highlights the growing importance of service robots at home, in hospitals and fields. IFR President Junji Tsuda, who is also the chairman of Yaskawa Electric Corp, said “Robots evolve with many cutting-edge technologies. They are vision recognition, skill learning, failure prediction utilizing AI, new concept of man-machine-collaboration plus easy programming and so on. They will help improve productivity of manufacturing and expand the field of robot application. The IFR outlook shows that in 2021 the annual number of robots supplied to factories around the world will reach about 630,000 units.” “In the beginning of 2018, the demand for robots from China lost impetus compared to the huge increase of sales in the first half of 2017”. Many global manufacturers “are now in a wait-and-see mode, wondering whether to shift production (away from China) to, let’s say, Vietnam or the United States”. However, IFR expects the global robot demand to pick up again from next year onwards with an expected average +14% increase per year through 2021.