Industrial robot market to rise again in 2021-2024

Recent news for the industrial robots market hasn’t been cheering, but the future for the sector looks good, with global shipments forecast to increase by over 9% in 2021, and a CAGR of 4.6% forecast for the period 2021-2024.  

Automotive and electronics industry hit hard in 2019 and 2020

The combination of a global downturn in capital spending in 2019, followed by the pandemic in 2020, hit automotive and electronics—the two largest industries that rely on robotics and automation—hard. In the new industrial robot’s report, Interact Analysis has highlighted the downturn for robotics by looking at their predictions made in Q3 2019 in the second edition of the report, and comparing them with revised figures made in the new third edition. The chart below shows the effect of the slow-down in 2019 on the robotics industry, when shipments fell by 5.4%, and the profounder effect of the pandemic of 2020 when they fell by 5.9%. Put more starkly, there were 80,000 unit shipments less in 2020 than previously forecast.

2.7 million robots working in factories in 2020

COVID-19 had a strong impact on 2020 but also offered a chance for modernization and digitalization of production. Robotics saw massive demand as companies in every sector sought new ways to innovate the workforce in a socially distanced world. The World Robotics report presented by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) in September 2020 showed a record of 2.7 million industrial robots operating in factories around the world – an increase of 12%. “The stock of industrial robots operating in factories around the world today marks the highest level in history,” said Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics. Driven by the success story of smart production and automation this was a worldwide increase of about 85% within five years (2014-2019).

20% increase in robot orders in Q1 2021

Robot orders in the first quarter of 2021 were up 20 % over the same period in 2020, according to the Association for Advancing Automation. Increases in robot purchases came from companies in metals (up 86 percent), life sciences/pharmaceutical/biomed (up 72 percent), food and consumer goods (up 32 percent), and other non-automotive industries (12 percent). The strong Q1 for robot orders was the second-best start to any year on record (2017) and the second-best quarter on record for non-automotive orders, behind Q4 of 2020. “Robot sales have increased considerably as more and more companies in every industry recognize that robotics and automation can help them compete globally,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of Association for Advancing Automation. “While advances in robot technology, ease of use, and new applications remain key drivers in robot adoption, worker shortages in manufacturing, warehousing, and other industries are a significant factor in the current expansion of robot use that we’re now seeing.”

Revenues forecast to grow of nearly 10% in 2021

The base of factory robots is expected to exceed 3.2 million units by the end of this year – double the level in 2015. Revenues are forecast to accelerate in 2021 with an increase of 9.2% in revenue terms and 9.6% in shipment terms. Thereafter there will be a steady uptick in shipments.

Different robot types to see different recovery rates

The sluggish market growth rate of articulated robots is explained by their predominant use in the automotive industry, which has been hit badly in the past two years. This downturn is predicted to continue. SCARA robots, used for light-duty pick and place and assembly operations, have suffered delayed demand in the 3C industry but are predicted to rebound swiftly as their potential for use in different applications is recognized. Market growth for Delta robots, used in the food and beverage and pharmaceutical sectors will be steady, whilst Collaborative robots are expected to show negative growth for the first time in 2020, but their growth rate is predicted to be an impressive 15-20% year-on-year up to 2028. They are currently strongly established in the electronics sector, but they are a relatively nascent technology offering the potential to be applied across a range of sectors. Cartesian robots are, like SCARA robots, used in material handling. Other applications include pick & place and packaging. Their advantage over SCARA robots is that they offer heavier payload options, and it is these that will drive their market.

Expansion into new industries

Expectations are high as more and more sectors look to robotics as the solution of choice. Flexibility, versatility, intelligence connectivity and ease of use are factors which rank highly for end-users. Industrial and non-industrial sectors only recently turning their attention to robotics include ‘new energy’ related areas, such as Li-ion battery, photovoltaic cell producers and wind power equipment manufacturers. There has also been a burst of interest from the metals sector and in warehousing and logistics. The latest researches show that investment in robotics in this ‘new’ category of industries will outstrip the growth forecast for robotics in the more traditional industries where robots have been used.

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