World Robotics Report: Global Sales of Robots Hit $16.5B in 2018

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) today released its annual World Robotics Report, which showed an annual global value of $16.5 billion in 2018. The IFR said 422,000 were shipped globally in 2018, an increase of 6% compared with 2017 shipments. However, the group said shipments in 2019 will recede from the record levels in 2018, but also expects an average growth of 12% per year from 2020 to 2022.

In the service category, the IFR said the sales value of service for professional use increased 32% to $9.2 billion in 2018. Logistics systems, such as autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) represent 41% of all units sold, followed by inspection and maintenance (39%). Service aimed at personal and domestic use, mainly in the area of household such as vacuums and lawn-mowing, was up 15% ($3.7 billion in sales).

world robotics report annual installations

For the first time, the World Robotics report analyzed the market for collaborative industrial robots, aka cobots. The IFR said that just under 14,000 cobots were installed in 2018, an increase of 23% compared to 2017 shipments (11,100 units).

“We saw a dynamic performance in 2018 with a new sales record, even as the main customers for robots the automotive and electrical-electronics industry had a difficult year,” said Junji Tsuda, president of the IFR. “The U.S.-China trade conflict imposes uncertainty to the global economy customers tend to postpone investments. But it is exciting that the mark of 400,000 robot installations per year has been passed for the first time. The IFR’s longer term outlook shows that the ongoing automation trend and continued technical improvements will result in double digit growth with an estimate of about 584,000 units in 2022.”

China gains share

The IFR said Asia remains the world’s largest industrial robot market, although installations in China and the Republic of Korea declined. However, installations in Japan increased, giving Asia an overall 1% growth rate.

In Europe, the second largest market, installations grew by 14%, and reached a new peak for the sixth year in a row. In the Americas, the growth rate reached 20% compared with 2017, marking another record level for the sixth year in a row.

The IFR reported that the top five markets for industrial markets, which represent 74% of all global installations, were China, Japan, Republic of Korea, the U.S., and Germany.

In the U.S. robot installations increased for the eighth year in a row, with about 40,300 units shipped, representing a 22% increase compared to 2017. “Since 2010, the driver of the growth in all manufacturing industries in the U.S. has been the ongoing trend to automate production in order to strengthen the U.S. industries in both domestic and global markets,” the World Robotics report said. In terms of annual installations, the U.S. has moved past Korea to third position on the list.

Automotive industry still tops

The automotive industry remained at the top spot of the largest adopter of robots globally, with almost 30% of the total supply in 2018. The IFR said that after a very strong year in 2017, which saw a 21% increase of installations, the level was maintained, and slightly increased by 2% in 2018. “Investments in new car production capacities and in modernization have driven the demand for robots,” the IFR said. “Using new materials, developing energy efficient drive systems and high competition in all major car markets pushed for investments.”

robot automotive industry robot densityAlmost 80% of industrial robot installations in the automotive industry took place in five key markets:

  • China (39,351 units)
  • Japan (17,364 units)
  • Germany (15,673 units)
  • United States (15,246 units)
  • Republic of Korea (11,034 units)

The IFR said India, which is the world’s fourth largest vehicle producer by OICA’s production statistics, had just about 2,100 industrial robots installed in its factories.

Electronics industry takes second

The IFR said the electrical/electronics industry was about to replace automotive as the most important customer for industrial robots in 2017. But in 2018, global demand for electronic devices and components substantially decreased. “This customer industry is probably the one most affected by the U.S.-China trade crisis, as Asian countries are leaders in manufacturing electronic products and components,” the IFR said. Robot installations in electronics declined by 14% from their peak level of 122,000 units in 2017, down to 105,000 units in 2018, the IFR said.

About 80% of the total installations in this category were provided by three countries:

  • China (43%)
  • Korea (19%)
  • Japan (17%)

Vietnam, which saw a one-off boost of installations in 2017 (7,080), dropped back in 2018 with only 689 units deployed.

Metals and machinery

The third largest customer of robots was the metal and machinery industry, which accounted for 10% of total demand in 2018 (43,500 units), the IFR reported. “Both producers of metal products (without automotive parts) and producers of industrial machinery, have bought substantial amounts of robots in recent years,” the IFR said. Shipments are down slightly (1%) compared with 2017 levels.

Countries deploying robots in the metal and machinery industry included:

  • Finland (44%)
  • Sweden (42%)
  • Switzerland (40%)
  • Belgium (30%)
  • Austria (27%)
  • Italy (26%)
  • Denmark (21%)

world robotics report cobots IFR

Cobot analysis

In its first-ever cobot analysis, the IFR said that its definition “implies that a cobot is necessarily an industrial robot as defined in ISO 8372:2012,” and said cobots are designed to perform tasks in the same workspace as human workers.

“Despite a very strong media attention of cobots, the number of units installed is still very low, with a share of 3.24% only,” when compared to large industrial robots, the IFR said. However, the group did report a 23% increase in cobot installations in 2018 when compared to 2017.

Service robots booming

The IFR said the total number of professional service robots sold in 2018 rose by 61%, with more than 271,000 units shipped (168,000 in 2017).

“In terms of value, the sales forecast for 2019 indicates a cumulative volume of around $12.6 billion for the professional service robot segment,” said Dr. Susanne Bieller, general secretary of the IFR. “Robots for logistics, medical and field services are the most significant contributors.”

In logistics systems, estimated at $3.7 billion in 2018, showed a 53% growth compared to 2017. In units, almost 111,000 logistics systems were sold in 2018, which is 60% more than in 2017 (69,000 units). “The trend to use logistic systems in non-manufacturing industries has been strongly driven by warehouse solutions for major e-commerce companies,” the IFR said. “A strong potential can also be found in hospitals running their logistics with the help of professional service robots.”

world robotics report professional service robots chart 2019

After logistics, the biggest category in the service space is inspection and maintenance systems, which saw about 106,000 units sold in 2018. This represents 39% of the total professional service robots market, the IFR said. “The category of inspection and maintenance robots covers a wide range of robots, from rather low-priced standard units to expensive custom solutions.”

Third in the service robots – professional category is medical robots (50% growth rate and 5,100 units sold), accounting for 31% of the total sales value. “Medical robots are the most expensive service robots, with an average unit price of $548,000, including accessories and services,” the IFR said. The demand for supportive robotic solutions for aging populations in Europe and Asia is driving “considerable growth potential” for medical robots, the federation added.

Field robots, which represent agricultural robots, milking robots and those used for crop farming and horticulture, increased by 8% to $1 billion in 2018, representing 11% of the service robots professional market. With an average growth rate of about 50% per year, the IFR said it expects sales to reach 2,400 units in this category by 2022.

Exoskeletons, which support ergonomic working by reducing loads on workers, showed sales of 7,300 units in 2018, up from 6,700 units in 2017. “There is a high growth potential for this kind of robot,” the IFR said.

Personal and domestic robots

The IFR said the market for the personal service robots is also developing rapidly. It projects that sales of all types of robots for personal and domestic tasks could exceed 22.1 million units (with a $4.6 billion value) in 2019. By 2022, that number could reach 61.1 million units and $11.5 billion in sales.

world robotics report personal service robots graphic

“Vacuum and floor-cleaning robots will enter more and more households in the world,” the IFR said. “It is estimated that in 2019, more than 17.6 million units of domestic robots including autonomous lawn mowers, pool cleaners and vacuum cleaners will be sold. Unit sales are expected to increase by 46% on average per year, so that more than 55 million units will be sold in 2022.”

Europe for medical, U.S. for logistics

Finally, the IFR said European and American service robot manufacturers play an important role, with both regions having a market share of around 45%. However, American companies are very strong in the logistic systems space, while European companies dominate in the field of medical robotics. European and Asian companies are the main producers of the field robotics category, at about 45% market share each.

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