The global demand for industrial robots reached an all-time-high in 2013, with around 168,000 being sold, according to the latest statistics from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). The figure represents a 5% increase on 2012.
In Europe, poor sales in the first three quarters meant that the market stagnated for 2013 as a whole, but IFR reports a substantial increase in demand for robots in the fourth quarter as the Eurozone started to recover. In the UK, sales of industrial robots fell by 7% during 2013.
Between 2010 and 2013, the average annual increase of robot sales globally was about 12%, despite the poor economic situation in some key countries. “One basic reason for the continuous growth in the use of robotics is its never-ending technological development,” says IRF president, Arturo Baroncelli.
Robot sales to the Americas continued to rise during 2013 due to the increasing automation of North American industry, while sales to Asia were driven by strong demand from China, South Korea and other growing markets.
In North America, the automotive industry continues to be the largest user of industrial robots, but its demand remained flat during 2013, while shipments to non-automotive customers rose by 31%. Sales to the life sciences, pharmaceutical and biomedical sector rose by 142%, to the food and consumer goods sector by 61%, and to the plastics and rubber industry by 36%.
“We’re very encouraged by the strong growth in shipments to non-automotive markets in 2013,” says Jeff Burnstein, president of the Robotic Industries Association, the trade group that represents the North American robotics industry.
IFR vice-president Joe Gemma says that many factors have contributed to growing use of robots. For example, the software needed to work with, and run, robots and automation cells, has developed rapidly in recent years and become easier to use, making applications practical that would not have been tackled in the past.
He adds that this is allowing manufacturers to get their products to the market quicker, with the flexibility to offer variations to meet consumer demand while, at the same time, ensuring quality and performance.