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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

The March Of Industrial Robots Continues

December 7th, 2017 by Jeff Rowe

If you think there are a lot of industrial robots out there, you’re right. But, by 2019, more than 1.4 million new industrial robots will be installed in factories around the world – that’s the latest forecast from a report published by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).

The number of industrial robots deployed worldwide will increase to around 2.6 million units by 2019. That’s about one million units more than in the record-breaking year of 2015.

Broken down according to sectors, around 70 percent of industrial robots are currently at work in the automotive, electrical/electronics and metal and machinery industry segments. In 2015, the strongest growth in the number of operational units recorded was registered in the electronics industry, which boasted a rise of 18 percent. The metal industry posted an increase of 16 percent, with the automotive sector growing by 10 percent.

New Technology Enhances Industrial Robots

The US is currently the fourth largest single market for industrial robots in the world. Within the NAFTA area (US, Canada, and Mexico), the total number of newly installed industrial robots rose by 17 percent to a new record of some 36,000 units (2015). The leader of the pack was the US, accounting for three-quarters of all units sold where 5 percent growth was recorded. With a comparatively much smaller number of units, the demand in Canada increased by 49 percent (5,466 units), while that in Mexico grew by 119 percent (3,474 units). With a stable economic situation, it is expected that North America will see average annual growth of 5 to 10 percent in sales of robots through 2019.

The US plays a leading role when it comes to automation in the automotive industry. US car makers are ranked third in robot density, behind Japan and the Republic of Korea. The US automotive industry has performed well over the last six years. 2016 proved to be the most successful year since 2005. Major manufacturers from the US, Europe and Asia embarked on restructuring programs resulting in the installation of some 80,000 industrial robots between 2010 and 2015. This is the largest investment worldwide, second only to China at around 90,000 units. This commitment is reflected in the increasing number of new jobs: The number of people employed in the automotive sector grew by around 230,000 between 2010 and 2015, so robots aren’t exactly taking jobs away.

By the end of 2016, the number of newly installed industrial robots increased by 14 percent to 290,000 units during the year. For 2017 to 2019, continued growth averaging at least 13 percent per year is forecasted (CAGR), and robotics manufacturers have made preparations for these growth prospects. To this end, production capacities have been increased, and the majority of European manufacturers are operating new locations in the large sales markets of China and the US.

As far as technological trends are concerned, companies will, in the future, be concentrating on the collaboration of human and machine, simplified applications, and light-weight robots. Added to this are the two-armed robots, mobile solutions and the integration of robots into existing environments. There will be an increased focus on modular robots and robotic systems, which can be marketed at extremely attractive prices.

The demand among customers for industrial robots will likewise be driven by a whole assortment of factors. This includes the handling of new materials, energy efficiency, better developed automation concepts, enabling the real-world factory and the virtual world to be interlinked with one another, as per the defined by Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Fanuc Produces 500,000th Robot

FANUC Corp., the world’s leading supplier of robotics, CNC and factory automation this week announced the production of its 500,000th robot.

“Automation and robotics are key drivers of manufacturing competitiveness,” said Mike Cicco, president & CEO, FANUC America. “More companies are using automation to overcome inefficiencies, lower costs, increase productivity, and gain market share. Having sold a half million robots is a key milestone for FANUC, and we’re looking forward to expanding our capabilities to keep pace with the growing demand for automation.”

FANUC’s Collaborative Robot

In April, FANUC announced plans to build a new factory scheduled to open in August 2018 that will increase its robot capacity from 6,000 to 11,000 units per month.

“The backbone of FANUC’s success is our talented workforce – all automation professionals, including an expanding product development team based in Japan and the U.S.,” Cicco added. “In addition to highly qualified employees, we offer the most reliable automation products in the marketplace. Everyone at FANUC is very motivated and focused on designing the hardware and software that make our products easy to learn and use for all manufacturers, including the practical application of IIoT technologies.”

The Rise of Collaborative Robots

Uptake of industrial robots has increased greatly in recent years, but the driver of much of future growth isn’t going to be from the room-sized industrial robots that have been assembling cars.

Rather, a new generation of manufacturing robots has emerged — collaborative robots that are designed to work safely with and alongside people in factories.

Collaborative robots are projected to account for a third of all industrial robots sold by 2025. Contrast that to 2016, when collaborative robots represented only 3 percent of industrial robots sold.

Collaborative robots are generally cheaper than traditional robots, ranging roughly from $25,000 to $45,000, whereas traditional factory floor robots can cost $100,000 and up, each.

Robots for automotive manufacturing currently make up the bulk of the industrial robots sold worldwide. But, as robots get smaller, cheaper, and become better at working alongside humans, robots in electronics manufacturing are projected to match the demand of robots in automotive factories by 2025.

In 2017, the market value of industrial robots worldwide is estimated to hit $14 billion, up 13 percent from last year, with more than 20 percent more units sold than in 2016. By 2025, the market for industrial robots is projected to increase to $33.8 billion.

But more robots sold doesn’t necessarily mean the market value of the industry will rise at the same rate, since the increase in sales is due, at least in part, to the decreasing cost of robots. In any event, the acceptance and implementation of industrial robots is impressive and will grow wider, promoting greater productivity in and number of industry segments served.

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