2021 was the biggest year for industrial robots, but China is dominant

2021 was the biggest year for industrial robots, but China is dominant

(© PopTika – shutterstock)

The global industrial robotics market has experienced stellar growth in 2021. This is according to full-year figures presented by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) at its annual press conference yesterday.

More than half a million new units (517,000) were moved worldwide, representing a 31% year-on-year increase – the highest numbers ever reported by the IFR – and a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11% since 2016 The organization said that a bumper year brings the number of industrial robots in the world to nearly 3.5 million.

Although the largest number of sales, 478,000, were from traditional industrial machines, cobots saw 50% annual growth and 39,000 installations, revealing a trend toward more flexible, programmable devices that can work in tandem With humans, especially in small factories.

Worldwide, the largest demand for all types of industrial robots was in the high-tech electronics sector, with 137,000 new machines installed, representing an annual growth of 24%. However, the metals and machinery (45%) and automotive (42%) sectors experienced greater growth, with 119,000 and 64,000 robots installed, respectively. The plastic and chemical products (29%) and food industries (18%) also experienced significant growth.

However, in the United States, adoption remains the highest in the auto sector, with 9,782 new robot installations: a seven percent annual decrease. By contrast, demand is rising in the US metals and machinery sector (66% year-over-year to 3,814 facilities), plastics and chemicals (30%), and the food industry (25%). However, year-over-year demand in the US high-tech electronics sector is down 23%, against the global trend.

Overall, the market grew strongly in all three major regions for industrial robot sales: Asia and Australia (381,000 sales, 38% annual growth), Europe (84,000 and 24%), and the Americas (51,000 and 31%), with Asian sales being strongly driven by automation in China.

At 268,200 new industrial robot installations, China alone accounts for nearly 52% of total global sales and 51% annual growth, followed by Japan (47,200 installations, 9% of sales, 22% annual growth). Over the past five years, the compound annual growth rate of demand for industrial robots in China has reached 23%.

By contrast, the US purchased just 35,000 industrial robots, up 14% year over year. South Korea – previously recognized as the world’s most automated country – installed an additional 31,000 (up 2% year over year) and Germany 23,800 (up six percent).

Dr Christopher Muller, Director of the IFR Statistics Department, said of China’s extraordinary progress:

We can see that China has a strong electronics industry, with strong demand: 38% growth in electronics is notable. But most importantly, the number of robots installed in the Chinese auto industry has nearly doubled by 97% year on year. And this is driven by the intent of the Chinese auto industry not only to increase the share of what they call new energy vehicles, but also other types.

special year

According to IFR, many European countries are now taking the opportunity to automate factories as well, with strong growth in demand compared to the previous year. These include Italy (up 65% year on year), Poland (56%) and France (11%). Elsewhere, Canada (66% growth), Mexico (61%), India (54%), and Thailand (36%) are also fast automation. However, China, Japan, the United States, South Korea and Germany easily dominate the global market, with nearly three-quarters of all robotics sales among them.

The struggling UK, which we reported on earlier this week, appears to be nowhere in these tables, and appears to be still well behind its major industrial rivals. This is a troubling dilemma for a country whose political focus is on growth and productivity – which robots will help.

Marina Bell, the new IFR president, praised the global achievements of the robotics industry, saying:

It’s been a really great year. And for those who attended last year’s press conference, my predecessor at the time spoke of Covid as an “automation booster”. And we can clearly say looking at this year’s numbers, that the automation booster has been ignited. It was a very strong recovery from the pandemic years, with the highest number in history, more than half a million units, installed in 2021.

This growth was across all geographies, all sectors, and all applications. We can see that in six years, the number of installed robots has more or less repeated [sic]Which, of course, is a very noticeable development.

Among the short-term market determinants of industrial robot adoption are complete order books for companies, scarcity of raw materials and intermediate products, continued demand from the electronics sector, increased political support, and labor scarcity in many advanced economies. The latter is exacerbated by an aging population and “significant resignations” from many industries following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Long-term drivers include low birth rates in many countries, the imminent retirement of baby boomers, the growing need for elderly care, and what the IFR describes as a “significant labor shortage” looming in the coming years. All this promises more years of growth for the robotics industry, she added.

At the same time, the global robotics market is “democratizing,” according to the IFR. This means that bots are easier to use, program, and redeploy, plus they are cheaper to buy. There is also a strong trend towards sustainable development and a smaller carbon footprint, with robots being more energy efficient.

My opinion

Valuable insights from an organization that has always had its finger on the pulse of robotic innovation. The message is clear: Asia is quickly automated to maintain its position as the world’s low-cost manufacturing location. Parts of Europe are catching up, and the US – while doing well – is losing ground to China in modernizing its factories.

So, what about the UK? It has made so little progress that it was largely absent from the 2021 IFR. For one of the world’s largest economies, newly independent but increasingly divided, this is not good enough – especially since robotics has been one of the mainstays of industrial strategy. for the year 2017.

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