Research from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) has found that worldwide sales for industrial robots has hit a record high in 2015, a trend that doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.
The figures reflect a significant shift we at diginomica have noticed in the marketplace towards greater investment in robotics and automation, as industries attempt to strip out costly workforces with machines.
This is true for repetitive and manual tasks, as it is for low level recommendation services that have benefitted from developments in personalisation and machine learning.
The IFR found that robotics companies sold 248,000 units in 2015, which is double digit growth of 12 percent compared to the previous year.
Joe Gemma, President of the International Federation of Robotics, said he expects growth to continue at a similar rate for the next couple of years and is being driven by developments in IoT. He said:
The wave of digital transformation and automation will continue to drive the robotics boom forward until 2018. Revolutionary developments in IT connected with all aspects of the Internet of Things, and new networked services are changing the producing industries fundamentally.
Machines, logistics and production plants are merging into integrated cyber-physical systems. The aim is to use smart factories to work more flexibly, more cost-efficiently and more productively.
The IFR said, as one would expect, that the industrial robotics market has surged since the 2008 financial crisis, with the units sold having increased almost four-fold since that time. It said that there is “no end in sight” to this growth trajectory and that by 2018 some 2.3 million units will be deployed on factory floors - more than twice as many as in 2009.
The research found that within global markets, the positive sales figures are being driven by highly automated emerging countries and by regions that are already highly developed economically. For example, in Europe the total sales figures for industrial robots in 2015 rose by 10 percent to 50,000 units compared to the previous year.
The strongest European markets were Germany (20,000 units), Italy (6,700 units) and Spain (3,800 units).
The IFR said that growth in America proved “even more dynamic”, with sales up by 15 percent to a total of 37,000 units. An “extraordinarily large leap forward” in automation was registered in Mexico, with sales more than doubling within one year to around 5,500 units. This is because of investments made in the automotive industry.
However, Asia is the world’s strongest growth market. Asia saw a total of 156,000 units sold in 2015, a rise of 16 percent. With 68,000 industrial robots sold, China alone sold more than the total market volume for Europe.
The robotics markets in South Korea and Japan sit in second and third places in global sales, behind China, and are followed by the USA and Germany. The top five countries account for three quarters of the global sales of industrial robots.
With regard to sectors, the worldwide largest volume is in the automotive industry, which unsurprisingly holds the lead in automation using industrial robots. During 2015 some 95,000 units were sold in this segment.
However, the automotive industry only saw growth of 1 percent. The sectors that saw the strongest growth in 2015 were the metal industry (+63 percent), the plastics and rubber industry (+40 percent), followed by the electronics industry (+16 percent).
Growing trendAs noted above, we at diginomica have seen a growing trend towards companies implementing either physical robotics to strip out manual labour in their workforce, or are introducing increased automation to save costs and increase transactions.
For example, a recent report found that if your job can be easily defined, then it can - and will - be automated. With a Research Fellow at Oxford University claiming that nearly half of all jobs will eventually be automated.
And we are seeing this in the real world too. Barclays bank, for instance, a leading global financial institution, has said that it will cut thousands of jobs by looking to increased automation for manual processes.
It seems that the financial industry is quick to move in this area, as reports have also suggested that jobs such as wealth management could be prime for automated advisers, where previously human intervention was required.
The impact of robotics and automation is also being taken seriously by governments across the world, as they recognise that the services they provide could escalate beyond the factory floor and into what would typically have been higher earning positions.
For example, the European Parliament has called for working robots to be classified as “electronic persons” and is considering ways for their owners to pay social security on their behalf. A draft motion has been published online this month, which considers the ways in which robots and automation could impact Europe’s workforce.
This is no longer something that just the automotive industry and manufacturing are looking at, it’s cross industry. We are a long way off robots taking over all of our jobs - but we’ve even seen it in publishing, where some of the larger news agencies are getting robo-journalists to write news stories.
This is a reality and the impact will be far reaching for all. Expect more of this in the next 12 to 24 months.