The end of 2010 brings some welcome news for the industrial robotics sector worldwide. In a comprehensive report, World Robotics 2010—Industrial Robotics, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), a Frankfurt, Germany-based nonprofit association whose purpose is to promote and strengthen the robotics industry, reports that worldwide industrial robotics sales figures for the year are well ahead of 2009 figures, which were abyssmal.
According to IFR president Ake Lindqvist, “The trend toward automation, which was stopped by the economic crisis in 2009, is continuing.” In fact, IFR reports that 2009 so hampered the international sales of industrial robotics that there was a worldwide decline of roughly 47 percent over the previous year. “This is the lowest level reported since 1994,” the IFR states. “Robot installations had never decreased so heavily.”
Indeed, robot shipments to the Americas dropped by 48 percent. Canada’s shipments fell by a whopping 72 percent. Sales in Europe were likewise abysmal, with Germany down 44 percent and Italy down 40 percent.
“In 2009, the automotive industry was the most important purchaser of industrial robots, accounting for 36 percent of the total year’s supply,” states the IFR. Nevertheless, that total was down 52 percent compared with 2008.
The Inevitable Upswing
With 2009 sales graphs hitting such valleys, an increase in industrial robotics sales was expected. IFR told the robotics community last week, however, that the increase was stronger than expected.
Due to rapid expansion and development in China, Korea, and other Southeast Asian countries, the IFR says 2010 is playing out well. All told, the IFR expects to see 27 percent worldwide growth in sales of industrial robotics. “The main driver of the recovery is the automotive industry, which has started to reinvest in new technologies,” says the report. The Americas, for example, are on pace to see to an increase of one third in sales over 2009 figures.
IFR president Lindqvist says the demand for cost-saving automation is helping to drive the industrial robotics recovery. “The diversity of the use of robots is increasing,” he says. “Consumer products are increasingly individualized with quick times to market, meaning more version or variants of the goods available for the consumer.” This variety requires flexible automation, he says, noting that “Robots, once programmed for several processes, can easily switch from process to process.”
Predictions through 2013
The IFR predicts that the next three years will see notable growth in the overall robotics market. “After the substantial rise of robot sales in 2010,” the organization finds, “a further increase will resume in the period between 2011 and 2013, about 10 percent per year on average, attaining a level of more than 100,000 units.”
The IFR also predicts that the number of service robots being employed for professional use will double during that same time frame. “The stock of service robots for professional use is forecast to increase to some 80,000 units,” the publication states. “The total value of professional service robots is forecasted at about $12 billion.”
Dr. Andreas Bauer, chairman of the IFR Industrial Robots Suppliers Group, says growth in high-tech industries should instill confidence. That confidence, he suggests, plays out in the 2010 figures in the industrial robotics market. “The strong recovery taking shape in 2010,” he says, “indicates the robotics market is back on track.”
GEOFFREY OLDMIXON is a Boston-based technology writer and freelance editor.