China is already the largest consumer of industrial robots

Industrial robots by GSK CNC EquipmentBy now, everyone knows that “China is soon expected to become the largest user of [industrial] robots,” but I believe it most probably is already. Clearly, “robots [are] on the rise in China.” Last week, at the opening of China (Shanghai) International Robot Show, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) announced that “in 2012, China was the second largest robot market in the world following Japan.” This leapfrog was not due to an important raise in demand though — sales only slightly increased to 23,000 robots from 22,577 in 2011 — but to a 24% decrease in sales in South Korea.

In 2012, robot sales in Japan increased to 28,700 units, or nearly 6,000 robots more than in China. However, the IFR’s report specifies that “only supply of foreign robot companies” was considered in the 23,000 count. Indeed, Ms. Gudrun Litzenberger, the director of the IFR Statistical Department, confirmed me that Chinese suppliers (as well as Foxconn) are excluded from their study. According to one recent article, in 2012, Fanuc, Yaskawa, KUKA and ABB, sold 3,900, 3,850, 3,470 and 3,200 robots in China, respectively. Other foreign manufacturers that supply industrial robots to China are Nachi, Panasonic, Kawasaki Robotics, Denso Robotics, Comau, Adept Technology, Staübli, and even Universal Robots.

According to the same article, foreign manufacturers currently have more than 70% of the industrial robot market share. This means that local manufacturers supplied as many as 9,800 robots in 2012. Indeed, China has a number of industrial robot manufacturers:

One article suggests that GSK CNC Equipment is currently selling about 1,000 robots per year. Another recent article states that “a survey of six key Chinese robot manufacturers showed that their combined output increased from 2,000 robots in 2011 to 3,200 in 2012.” Last, but certainly not least, Foxconn claims to have manufactured and installed at least 20,000 industrial robots in China in 2011 and 2012.

It seems therefore clear that China is already the largest user of industrial robots. No wonder China recently set up a group to promote local robot industry: the China Robot Industry Alliance. It will be lobbying for the Chinese government to cut tariffs on imported robotic components while raising duties on imported robots. Yesterday, it was announced that the gouvernment of China will soon set guidelines for its robot market.

Already the largest user of industrial robots, China factories are far from well automated. Robot density (number of robots used by per 10,000 employees) in South Korea is 347, followed by 339 in Japan, 261 in Germany, and merely 10 in China. It is therefore more appropriate to speculate that China will soon install more industrial robots in a given year than all other countries together.

About Ilian Bonev

Professor at the ÉTS
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