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Electronics overtakes automotive as biggest buyer of robots

29 October, 2021

The number of industrial robots being used worldwide for electrical and electronics applications overtook those being bought by the automotive sector for the first time during 2020, according to the latest statistics from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). While the number of robots being bought for electronic applications soared from 89,000 in 2019 to 109,000 in 2020, those for automotive applications plummeted from 102,000 to 80,000.

The IFR figures also show that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, global sales of industrial robots rose slightly – by 0.5% – last year, with 384,000 machines being shipped. The number of robots operating worldwide climbed by 10% to exceed three million for the first time, and 2020 proved to be the third most successful year in the history of the robotics industry, after 2018 and 2017.

The IFR expects the market to rebound strongly in 2021 with global shipments growing by 13% to reach 435,000, thus breaking the previous record set in 2018. The biggest growth will come from Asia where new robot installations are expected to exceed the 300,000 mark, adding 15% to the previous year’s result. Installations in North America are expected to increase by 17% to almost 43,000, while Europe will expand by a slower 8% to almost 73,000 machines.

Last year’s small expansion in the global market for industrial robots was driven largely by China, where sales grew by 20% with 168,400 robots being shipped. This is the highest value ever recorded for a single country. China’s operational stock of robots reached 943,223 – a rise of 21%. IFR expects China to exceed the one million robot mark in 2021.

“The economies in North America, Asia and Europe did not experience their Covid-19 low point at the same time,” says IFR president, Milton Guerry. “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.”

The IFR figures show that collaborative robots (cobots) still represent a tiny fraction of the industrial robot market. In 2020, just 22,000 cobots were sold worldwide compared to 362 traditional industrial robots. Cobot sales were up 6% on their 2019 figure.

Industrial robot installations in Europe fell by 8% during 2020 to 67,700 – the second year of decline for the region. Although demand from general industry was up by 14%, demand from the automotive sector plummeted by 20%. One third of Europe’s new installations were in Germany, followed by Italy on 13% and France on 8%.

Robots installed globally by various sectors (in 1,000s) over the past three years
Source: IFR

In the UK, industrial robot installations climbed by 8% during 2020 to 2,205 machines. The automotive sector again dominated, accounting for 40% of UK installations, and adding 875 more robots – a 16% increase. The food and beverage industry almost doubled its number of installed robots from 155 in 2019 to 304 in 2020.

By far the biggest application for industrial robots is handling, accounting for 166,000 of global installations during 2020 (down from 174,000 in 2019). The next biggest applications are welding (66,000 machines) and assembly (47,000).

The IFR expects the “boom after the crisis” effect to fade slightly in 2022 on a global scale. From 2021 to 2024, it is predicting average annual growth rates in the medium single-digit range, with the milestone of 500,000 robots installed in a single year likely to be reached in 2024.

IFR:  Twitter  LinkedIn

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