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Germany tops European automation list

Market news |
By Nick Flaherty


Germany is the most highly automated economy in the European Union with around 221,500 industrial robots – the number has increased by 3 percent on 2019 but a drop on the record figures in 2018.

The World Robotics 2020 yearbook from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) shows there are three times as many industrial robots in use in the factories of the German economy as in Italy (74,400 units), around five times as many as in France (42,000 units) and around ten times as many as the UK with 21,700 units, which is behind Poland and the Czech Republic. The pace of automation is predicted to increase as part of the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The use of industrial robots in Europe has reached an all-time high of around 580,000 units – the number increased by 7 percent compared to the previous year,” said Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “Driven by the success story of smart production and automation this is a worldwide increase of about 85% within five years (2014-2019). The recent slowdown in sales by 12% reflects the difficult times the two main customer industries, automotive and electrical/electronics, have experienced.”

Germany’s share of the European robot population is 38 percent, putting it fifth globally behind China, Japan, Korea and the USA.

The German economy has been driving automation significantly with around 20,000 units per year through to 2019 at 20,400 robots sold, down slightly from the record shipments in 2018 of 27,000 robots, mainly triggered by investments in the automotive industry.

This accounts for a drop in 2019, and while predictions are for significantly higher growth in automation as part of the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, there are still doubts about the speed of the recovery.

“The consequences of the corona pandemic for the economy cannot yet be fully assessed,” said Milton Guerry. “The 2020 financial year will be shaped by the fact that the industry is first adapting to the ‘new normal’. A strong impetus from major orders is unlikely in the current financial year. China may be an exception. The reason: In the Chinese city of Wuhan, the coronavirus was identified for the first time in December 2019 and the country was able to recover economically in the second quarter. Other economies are at an economic turning point much later. Accordingly, it will take a few months before positive trends are reflected in new automation projects and robot demand. We expect a recovery in 2021 – but it could take until 2022 or 2023 before the pre-crisis level is reached.”

Next: Automation in Asia and the US, cobot growth


Asia remains the largest market for industrial robots with China using 783,000 units in 2019, up 21 percent. In second place is Japan with around 355,000 units – an increase of 12 percent, followed by South Korea with 319,000 units, up 6 percent. A newcomer in the region is India with a new record number of around 26,300 units – an increase of 15 percent. This means that the number of industrial robots in Indian factories has doubled within five years.

The share of newly installed robots in Asia accounted for around two thirds of global sales in 2019. In China, sales of around 140,500 new robots are below the record years of 2018 and 2017, but have more than doubled compared to the sales figures five years ago (2014: 57,000 units). New installations slowed down in the Asian top 3 markets in 2019 – in China (minus 9%), Japan (minus 10%) and the Republic of Korea (minus 26%).

In China, the vast majority of 71% of new robots come from overseas suppliers. Chinese manufacturers still mainly serve the domestic market, where they are increasingly gaining market share. Foreign manufacturers sell about 29% of their units in the automotive industry – Chinese suppliers only have a share of about 12% in this segment. For this reason, foreign suppliers are more affected by the decline in business in the Chinese automotive industry than their domestic competitors.

USA, Canada, Mexico

The USA is the largest user of industrial robots on the American continent and set a new record in 2019 with around 293,200 units – an increase of 7%. In second place is Mexico with 40,300 units – this corresponds to an increase of 11% – followed by Canada with around 28,600 units and an increase of 2%.

New installations in the United States slowed 17% from the record year of 2018. Nevertheless, sales in 2019 remained at a very high level with 33,300 units delivered and overall achieved the second strongest result of all time. Most of the robots are imported to the US from Japan, Korea, and Europe. Although the number of US robot manufacturers is very small, there are very many important system integrators for robotics and automation. Mexico is in second place in North America with around 4,600 units sold – here sales slowed by 20%. Sales in Canada are up 1% and hit a new record with around 3,600 units shipped.

Number one in South America is Brazil with around 15,300 units in stock – that is an increase of 8%. Sales slowed by 17% to around 1,800 installations – this is still one of the best results of all time – and was only exceeded by the record deliveries in 2018.

Cobots

The use of collaborative robots (cobots), which can work hand in hand with people and without a protective fence, is on the rise. Sales of cobots rose by 11% in 2019 – completely contrary to the trend for traditional industrial robots. As more and more manufacturers offer collaborative robots and at the same time the range of applications increases, the market share rose to 4.8% in 2019. Despite this dynamic development, the market is still in its infancy. Of the 373,000 industrial robots sold so far, only around 18,000 units are cobots.

The global COVID-19 pandemic will have a strong impact on business development in 2020 says the Federation, but with the modernization and digitization of production, it also offers opportunities for recovery. The advantages of robotics and automation also remain unchanged in the long term: the main incentives are accelerating production and being able to deliver customer-specific products at competitive prices. Automation enables manufacturers in developed economies to cost-effectively maintain – or realign – their production at home locations. In addition, the range of industrial robots is constantly expanding and includes traditional industrial robots that can handle all payloads quickly and precisely, as well as new collaborative robots that work safely by the side of people and can be fully integrated into the workbench.

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