Setting a new record for the 8th year in a row, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) anounced on April 3rd that almost 38,000 robots were sold in 2018. According to the IFR, US robot density is now more than twice China's record. The United States is ranked seventh in the world behind South Korea, Singapore, Germany, Japan, Sweden, and Denmark.
Robot density, measured by the number of robots per employee, reached 200 robots per 10,000 employees in the U.S., vs. 97 robots per 10,000 employees in China. The IFR said the trend to automate production in domestic and global markets was the main driving force behind robot installations in the U.S.
“The North American countries (U.S., Canada and Mexico) represent the second largest operational stock of industrial robots in the world after China,” said Junji Tsuda, president of the IFR. “Whilst numerous important robot system integrators come from North America, most big robot manufacturers are based in Japan, Korea, and Europe.”
Industries seeing large growth in robot unit sales included the food and beverage (64% growth), and the plastic and chemical products industry (30% growth).
In the automotive industry, where parts suppliers account for two-thirds of installations, sales were up 9% between 2017 and 2018. Yet car manufacturers themselves invested less in automation, with installations down 26%. This echoes a report by the Robotics Industry Association in February, which said robot shipments to auto industry companies saw a 12% decrease compared to units shipped in 2017. Much of the growth in robot sales and installations in recent years have been to small and midsize manufacturers, the RIA reported.
“If you look at the automotive numbers since the end of the great recession, which was the last downturn for the robotics industry, we knew that there was a point where they just needed to slow down, especially the OEMs,” said Robert Doyle, vice president of the RIA and A3 Mexico. But unlike the last downturn, the growth of non-automotive robotics deployments means that that the robotics industry as a whole can endure a decrease by the automotive space.
“In the past when automotive was down, the entire robotics industry was down because it was so linked to automotive,” said Doyle. “But now, the automotive space was only 52% of the market, which means there’s a lot of non-traditional industries that are realizing the benefits of robotics. It’s also giving suppliers and integrators the opportunity to ensure they’re in a position to serve the general industry.”
More robots, more employees
The IFR said the annual growth rate of robot sales to the U.S. automotive industry between 2013 and 2018 was 7%. Robot density in this space increased by 52% between 2012 and 2017, from 790 to 1,200 industrial robots per 10,000 employees, the IFR said.
Before you think that the increase in robot destiny should have employees worried, fear not – the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment in the automotive industry increased 22% between 2013 to 2018, going from 824,400 jobs to more than 1 million jobs.
The second largest industry for robots is the electronics/electrical industry, with an 18% market share of the total supply of robots, the IFR said. From 2013 to 2018, robot installations increased 15% on average. Total installations in this space rose to almost 6,700 units in 2018.