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Robot Sales Are On the Rise Again

Sales of new robots grew slightly at 0.5% despite the global pandemic, with 384,000 units shipped globally in 2020, The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) reports

This trend was dominated by the positive market developments in China, compensating the contractions in other markets. “The economies in North America, Asia and Europe did not experience their Covid-19 low point at the same time,” says Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics, in a press release. “Order intake and production in the Chinese manufacturing industry began surging in the second quarter of 2020. The North American economy started to recover in the second half of 2020, and Europe followed suit a little later.”

Milton Guerry continues to say that global robot installations are expected to rebound strongly and grow by 13% to 435,000 units in 2021, which would exceed the record level achieved in 2018.

“Installations in North America are expected to increase by 17% to almost 43,000 units. Installations in Europe are expected to grow by 8% to almost 73,000 units. Robot installations in Asia are expected to exceed the 300,000-unit mark and add 15% to the previous year’s result. Almost all Southeast Asian markets are expected to grow by double-digit rates in 2021.”

Looking at the three major markets; Asia, Europe and the Americas, it’s easy to see that Asia still remains the world’s largest market for industrial robots. 71% of all newly deployed robots in 2020 were installed in Asia, an increase from 67% of the newly deployed robots in 2019.

It comes as no surprise that China would be the regions largest adopted and the country’s installations grew strongly by 20% with 168,400 units shipped. This is the highest value ever recorded for a single country. The operational stock in China reached 943,223 units in 2020 and the IFR are convinced that the 1-million-unit mark will be broken in 2021.

Japan remained second to China as the largest market for industrial robots, though the Japanese economy was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic: Sales declined by 23% in 2020 with 38,653 units installed.

However, the Japanese robotics market is expected to grow by 7% in 2021 and continue to do so by 5% in 2022. Independent of the domestic market for robotics, IFR believes that the major export destinations will secure demand for Japanese robotics.

The Republic of Korea was the fourth largest robot market in terms of annual installations, following Japan, China and the US. Robot installations decreased by 7% to 30,506 units in 2020. The operational stock of robots was computed at 342,983 units.

The federation says in the report that demand for robots both from the Asian electronics industry as well as from the automotive suppliers is expected to grow substantially by 11% in 2021 and by 8% annually on average in the next years following.

Turning our eyes to Europe we see that Industrial robot installations were down by 8% to 67,700 units in 2020. This was the second year of decline, following a peak of 75,560 units in 2018. Unsurprisingly demand from the automotive industry dropped by another 20% during the year, however, demand from the general industry was up by 14%.

Germany, which belongs to the five major robot markets in the world (China, Japan, USA, Korea, Germany) had a share of 33% of the total installations in Europe. Italy followed with 13% and France with 8%.

The number of installed robots in Germany remained at about 22,300 units in 2020. This is the third highest installation count ever – and as pointed out by the IFR, quite a remarkable result given the pandemic situation that dominated 2020. The German robotics industry is recovering, driven by strong overseas business. Robot demand in Germany is expected to grow slowly, mainly supported by demand for low-cost robots in the general industry and outside of manufacturing.

In the United Kingdom, industrial robot installations were up by 8% to 2,205 units. The automotive industry rose by 16% to 875 units – representing 40% of the installations in the UK. With continued Covid-19-related travel restrictions as one reason and Brexit another, the demand for robots in the United Kingdom is expected to grow strongly at two-digit percentage rates in 2021 and 2022.

On the other side of the Atlantic we find the USA to be the largest industrial robot user in the Americas, holding a share of 79% of the region’s total installations. It is followed by Mexico with 9% and Canada with 7%.

New installations in the United States slowed down by 8% in 2020. This was the second year of decline following eight years of growth. While the automotive industry demanded substantially fewer robots in 2020 (10,494 units, -19%), installations in the electrical/electronics industry grew by 7% to 3,710 units. The overall expectations for the North American market are very positive, the report concludes.


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