The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) executive summary for 2018 reports that in 2017, robot sales increased by 30%. Over 380,000 robots were sold, setting a new high in the number of robot sales for a fifth consecutive year. The automotive and electrical/electronics industries are responsible for the bulk of industrial robots currently deployed. China has been the largest customer of the robot market since 2013 and employs 36% of the world’s total supply of industrial robots in 2017. Japan, China, the Republic of Korea, Germany, and the United States are responsible for 73% of the global robot sales volume in 2017.
The Appeal of Industrial Robots
Manufacturers and industrial installations are moving toward a more robotic workforce for a number of reasons. According to McKinsey & Company, some of them are:
- Cost - The price of industrial robots has steadily declined over the last 30 years while the costs of employing human labor have risen substantially.
- Integration - Skills required to administer and maintain robotic systems are more available due to modifications in technical curriculum. Advances in the software packages used to control robots have reduced the time and expense required to install and operate a robotic production system.
- Intelligence - AI and machine learning (ML) have bestowed new capabilities on industrial robots that enable them to be used in a much wider variety of roles. Robots which can adapt their behavior based on sensory feedback can be used in many applications previously beyond their reach. This opens the door for robots to be used in industries such as agriculture where their tasks may be more variable than in a production line setting.
- Collaborative robots - Robots designed to work alongside human counterparts are becoming popular in industrial settings. These robots are usually smaller and are built with safety features that enable them to work in close proximity to the human labor force.
Industrial Sectors Affected by Robotics
Robots are gaining a foothold in more and more industries as their price decreases and their utility increases. Global X Funds identifies these industries as the major players in the near-term adoption of industrial robots.
- Manufacturing - The percentage of manufacturing processes that rely on robotic automation is expected to grow from 10% in 2015 to 25% in 2025.
- Finance - Intelligent robotic advisors which can create and maintain investor portfolios are becoming more prevalent in the financial sector.
- Transportation - Autonomous cars and trucks may account for 15% of worldwide passenger vehicles sold in 2030.
- Defense applications - Drones are being used to reduce the risks to human soldiers. Areas such as reconnaissance and rescue are also being affected by the increased use of robots.
The first half of the 21st Century will see a dramatic shift in the use of industrial robots to fill roles formerly held by human workers. The challenge to society is to find a way to balance the benefits that robots present to industry with the needs of the world’s population to remain gainfully employed.