Automation on rise, according to IFR statistics

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Global sales of industrial robots are expected to almost double in volume by 2018, reaching 400,000 units, according to the latest figures from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).

Machine vision is closely linked with robot automation in manufacturing, forming a component part of integrated assembly solutions, or adding inspection capabilities to robot cells. It also allows more automated assembly lines in which humans and robots work together, a trend that is 'opening up new markets with new applications', Dr Martin Lechner, expert for new technologies at Automatica trade show organiser, Messe Muenchen, commented in a statement.

'Apart from the automotive and electronics industries, this development is increasingly visible in the sectors metal working, plastics, food and packaging,' Dr Martin added.

In 2014, 229,261 industrial robots were sold, according to IFR statistics, with 70 per cent of supply made up by five countries: China, Japan, USA, Korea and Germany.

China installed 56 per cent more robots in 2014 than the year before, but its robot density – the number of robots per 10,000 employees – is still relatively low at 36 units per 10,000 employees. The global average is 66 units per 10,000 employees.

It is estimated that 1.2 to 1.5 million industrial robots are needed to attain the level of highly automated countries. The IFR predicts that in 2018 about 150,000 units – more than one third of the global supply of industrial robots – will be installed in China.

The Republic of Korea, Japan and Germany have the highest robot densities. The UK has a robot density of 71 units per 10,000 employees, only slightly above the global average, compared to highly automated European countries like Germany, Sweden and Denmark, which have robot densities that are approximately three to four times higher.

Speaking at a press conference for the Automatica trade fair in February, Patrick Schwarzkopf, managing director of the VDMA Robotics and Automation Association, commented that 'the UK is relatively slow to invest in robots'.

Nevertheless, between 2010 and 2014, the UK increased its annual industrial robot installations by 24 per cent on average. The UK automotive industry, which has just reported a 10-year high in car production and an export ratio of 77 per cent, already ranks number 10 globally in robot density (734 units per 10,000 employees).

Destroying jobs?

Automation and robotics have been charged with replacing human jobs in industry. Guy Michaels from the London School of Economics presented a study at the Automatica press conference, which he and Georg Graetz at Uppsala University conducted on estimating the impact of robots on productivity and employment. The study found that 'industrial robots made significant contributions to labour productivity and aggregate growth, and also increased wages and total factor productivity.'

However, the authors commented: 'While fears that robots destroy jobs at a large scale have not materialised, we find some evidence that robots reduced low-skilled workers’ employment.' This is in contrast to a study in the US conducted by the Association for Advancing Automation.

Michaels' and Graetz's study calculated, on average, the increased use of robots contributed about 0.37 percentage points to the annual growth of GDP between 1993 and 2007.

'We expect that the beneficial effects of robots will extend into the future as new robot capabilities are developed, and service robots come of age,' the study stated. 'Our findings do, however, come with a note of caution: there is some evidence of diminishing marginal returns to robot use, or congestion effects, so robots are not a panacea for growth.'

The automation trade fair, Automatica, will take place from 21 to 24 June in Munich, Germany, with more than 850 exhibitors booked. The show will cover new automation solutions for manufacturing, smart production based on the concept of Industry 4.0, human-robot collaboration, and service robotics, among other trends.

Further information

Automatica

International Federation of Robotics

VDMA Robotics and Automation Association

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