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Industrial robot sales hit new high in 2021 – but UK sales fall

17 October, 2022

The number of industrial robots installed around the world hit last year an all-time high of 517,385, representing a 31% year-on-year expansion. The number was 22% higher than the pre-pandemic record of 422,000 reached in 2018, and took the total number of operational robots around the globe to a new record of around 3.5 million.

Most major industrial countries expanded their sales of industrial robots during 2021. One exception was the UK, where the number of new industrial robot installations fell 7% to 2,054. The UK now has around 24,445 industrial robots in operation – a 6% rise during 2021, but the UK still has less than 10% of the number of robots in use in Germany. One reason for the poor UK performance was that automotive industry cut its number of new industrial robot installations by 42% to 507 during 2021.

The figures come from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) whose latest World Robotics report shows that Asia is by far the world’s largest regional market for industrial robots, with 74% of all new robots being installed in the region – up from 70% in 2020. And China remains the region’s biggest adopter with the 268,195 robots shipped, representing a 51% increase on the previous year. This means that half of all new robot installations worldwide during 2021 were in China, which now has more than a million installations – a 27% increase on the 2020 figure.

“The use of robotics and automation is growing at a breathtaking speed,” comments IFR president, Marina Bill. “Within six years, annual robot installations have more than doubled. According to our latest statistics, installations grew strongly in 2021 in all major customer industries, although supply chain disruptions, as well as different local or regional headwinds, hampered production.”

The number of industrial robots bought by the electrical/electronics sector is pulling ahead of the automotive market, which was the biggest buyer globally until 2019. In 2021, electrical users bought 137,000 new robots (a 24% increase on 2020), while the automotive sector bought 119,000 – a 42% increase, but not enough to catch up with the new leader.

Although the use of collaborative robots (cobots) is rising, and new models are offering higher payloads and longer reaches, they still represent a tiny part of the industrial robot market. In 2021, just 39,000 cobots were sold worldwide, compared to 478,000 “traditional” robots, but this does represent a 50% rise on the 2020 figure of 26,000.

Japan remains the second-largest market for industrial robots, with installations up 22% in 2021 at 47,182 machines. Japan’s operational stock hit 393,326 in 2021 – 5% more than in 2020. Japan also remains the world leading robot manufacturer, with exports hitting a new peak of 186,102 robots in 2021.

In the US, new industrial robot installations rose by 14% in 2021 to 34,987 systems, exceeding the 2019 level of 33,378, but considerably lower than the pre-pandemic peak of 40,373 in 2018. The automotive industry is still, by far, the number one adopter, having installed 9,782 new robots during 2021. However, demand from this sector had been declining continuously for five years, and the number of automotive installations was 7% lower than in 2020.

By contrast, new installations in the US metal and machinery industry surged by 66% to 3,814 during 2021, putting it in second place in terms of applications. The US plastic and chemicals industry bought 3,466 robots in 2021 – a 30% increase – while the food and beverage industry installed 25% more new robots to hit a new peak of 3,402.

China’s dominance of the global market for industrial robots is growing
Source: IFR World Robotics 2022

In Europe, the number of new industrial robots rose by 24% to 84,302 during 2021, again hitting a new peak. Demand from the automotive industry remained steady, while demand from general industry was up by 51%. Germany accounted for 28% of all new robots in Europe, followed by Italy on 17% and France on 7%.

Germany added 23,777 new industrial robots (a 6% increase) during 2021. This is the second-highest installation count ever recorded, and took the country’s operational stock to 245,908 – a 7% rise. Exports of industrial robots from Germany rose by 41% to 22,870, exceeding the pre-pandemic level.

Italy is Europe’s second-largest robot market and achieved an operational stock of 89,330 robots in 2021 – a 14% rise. A reduction of tax credits led to a 65% increase of robot installations, which hit a new record of 14,083.

France, Europe’s third-largest robot market added 5,945 machines last year – an 11% rise. It now has 49,312 operational robots – 10% more than in 2020.

The International Federation of Robotics reports that order books for industrial robots are full and that demand for industrial robots has never been higher, despite the challenges of rising energy prices and component shortages.

The IFR predicts that the number of industrial robots installed globally during 2022 will rise by 10%, to reach almost 570,000. But it expects the post-pandemic boom to fade. From 2022 to 2025, it is forecasting average annual growth rates in the mid to upper single-digit range.

IFR:  Twitter  LinkedIn

The electrical and electronics sector is pulling ahead of the automotive industry as the world’s biggest buyer of industrial robots

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