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Industrial robot sales in China grows 27 per cent in 2016

Sales of industrial robots in China are expected to increase on average between 15 and 20 per cent per year from 2018 to 2020, according to the latest report from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).

In 2016, sales of industrial robots in China grew by 27 per cent to 87,000 units; the compound annual growth rate between 2011 and 2016 was 31 per cent. The increase in industrial automation in China is mirrored by sales in machine vision; VDMA Machine Vision recorded growth of 32 per cent in exports from Europe to China in 2016 in its market statistics.

‘China is by far the biggest robot market in the world regarding annual sales and regarding the operational stock,’ said Joe Gemma, president of the International Federation of Robotics. ‘It is the fastest growing market worldwide. There has never been such a dynamic rise in such a short period of time in any other market.’

The electrical and electronics industry are driving growth in China, where sales increased by 75 per cent to almost 30,000 robot units in 2016, the IFR found. In the machine vision sector, both Basler and Cognex posted strong growth in the first half of 2017 because of investment in the Asian electronic goods industry – Basler’s incoming orders jumped 100 per cent for the first half of 2017 compared to the same period last year, while Cognex expects revenue for Q3 2017 to be between $250 million and $260 million, a substantial increase year-on-year because of higher anticipated revenue from the consumer electronics industry.

About one third of robots were produced by Chinese robot suppliers, which more than doubled sales by almost 120 per cent. Likewise, Chinese manufacturers of cameras, such as Hikvision and Dahua, are now strong global players and are entering the European machine vision market – Hikvision and Dahua exhibited for the first time at the Vision show in Stuttgart last year.

Major contract manufacturers of electronic devices have already started to automate production, according to IFR. The semiconductor and the chip industries, for example, have strongly invested in automation. Large battery production facilities are being installed to meet the increasing demand for electric and hybrid cars.

The IFR report found that the automotive sector is also a powerful driver for industrial robot sales; China has become both the world's largest car market and the world’s largest production site for cars – including electric cars – with much growth potential.

Sales to China made up 25 per cent of the global supply of industrial robots to the automotive sector in 2016, the IFR stated. Between 2011 and 2016, a total of 108,000 robot units were installed, representing an average increase of 18 per cent per year. The market share of Chinese robot suppliers in the automotive industry is still on a low level, but has increased from 10 to 13 per cent.

Some international robot suppliers have already launched production plants in China and in all likelihood more will follow suit in the coming years, according to the IFR. Most industrial robots in China are imported from Japan, Korea, Europe, and North America.

The Chinese government wants to transform China from a manufacturing giant into a world manufacturing power according to the ten-year national plan ‘Made in China 2025’. The plan includes strengthening Chinese robot suppliers and further increasing their market shares in China and abroad. China intends to make it into the world's top 10 most intensively automated nations by 2020, the IFR reported. By then, its robot density is targeted to rise to 150 robot units – this being the number of industrial robots per 10,000 employees. Today, South Korea is the leader regarding robot density, with 531 robot units. The USA has 176 robot units, while Germany has 301 robot units.

The International Federation of Robotics’ World Robotics Report 2017 will be released on 27 September.

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