Strong performance in the US, Europe and Japan drives global industrial robot sales of US$ 16.5 million in 2018

29 Oct 2019

Global sales of industrial robots reached a peak of US $16.5 billion in 2018, an increase of 1% over 2017. The number of robots sold increased by 6% to a record 422,000. China continues to be the leading market for industrial robots, despite declining sales in 2018. Germany and Italy led strong growth in Europe, while the United States leapfrogged Korea to become the third largest industrial robot market globally.

In 2018 sales of industrial robots reached a new record of US $16.5 billion dollars in 2018, an increase of 1% over 2017. The number of robots sold increased by 6% to a record 422,000. There are now 2.4 million robots at work globally and the IFR forecasts almost 4 million robots in operation globally by 2022.

Economic and geopolitical turbulence led to caution over capital investments, resulting in lower-than-expected new sales in 2018. “The automotive and electrical-electronics industries had a difficult year. Structural shifts in the automotive industry with the move to hybrid and electric vehicles, combined with the impact of the US-China trade conflict made their mark,” commented Junji Tsuda, IFR President. “However, some geographies, including those such as Japan and Germany, that have a historically high rate of robot adoption, showed remarkable double-digit growth in 2018.”

Industry diversification continues to increase, though automotive and electrical / electronics sectors still dominate sales

The automotive industry remains the largest adopter of robots globally, accounting for almost 30% of total supply, an increase of 2% over 2017. The electrical / electronics industry, which was set to overtake the automotive industry in global share of sales, held back on capital investments in 2018, most probably as a result of uncertainty around US-China trade tension. The share of 2018 sales of the electrical / electronics industry receded to just under 25%.

Robot adoption continues to diversify to new industries, driven by increasing flexibility of deployment. New technologies such a broader range of grippers and more sophisticated sensors continue to expand the range of tasks robots can perform, from identifying and picking objects from unsorted bins, to sophisticated polishing applications. Robot installations in the food and beverage industry have almost doubled since 2013 for example. Other non-manufacturing branches such as construction and utilities also demonstrated strong growth rates from a historically low base of robot adoption.

More intuitive programming interfaces, and robots that are designed to work alongside humans (collaborative industrial robots), make robots an increasingly viable capital investment for all sizes of company. The IFR began tracking sales of collaborative industrial robots in 2018 and recorded 14,000 collaborative robot sales – 3.24% of total sales for the year. Though low, this figure represents an increase of 23% over 2017 and the IFR anticipates strong growth of collaborative industrial robots going forward.

Asia remains largest market in 2018 despite tepid (1%) growth in 2018 – Japan shines with 21% growth over 2017

Asia remains the world’s largest industrial robot market, with China accounting for 36% of new sales in 2018. Sales in China declined by 1% over 2017, influenced in part by trade tensions with the US. However, 2018 robot sales in China were still more – at 154,000 – than in Europe and the Americas combined. Chinese robot manufacturers increased their share of sales in China by 5 percentage points over 2017, accounting for 27% of industrial robots sold in the country, reflecting the government’s focus on developing domestic value-added technology sectors including robotics.

Robot sales to Japan increased by 21% in 2018 – a remarkable figure given Japan’s economic woes during 2018, and the fact that Japan already has the third highest proportion of robots to workers in manufacturing industries globally. Two thirds of new sales went to the automotive and electrical / electronics industries. Almost all of the 55,240 robots sold in Japan were also manufactured in Japan. Japanese robot manufacturers supply just over half of the world’s robots.

Germany and US show strongest growth among top five robot markets

Germany and the United States – the fifth and third largest industrial robot markets respectively - also saw strong sales growth, at 26% and 22% respectively over 2017. The automotive industry accounted for a significant percentage of sales in both countries (59% and 38% respectively) but while sales to the automotive sector in the United States declined in 2018, they increased by a stunning 73% in Germany, following three years of declining sales to the sector. In the US, strongest growth came from other sectors. Robot sales to the food and beverage industry in the US, for example, increased by 72% in 2018 to 2754 new robots sold – nevertheless still only 18% of sales to the US automotive sector. Robot sales in Korea declined for the third year running, driven by low demand from the electronics industry, which had a tough year in 2018. Korea moved to fourth largest industrial robot market in 2018 for the first time, behind the US. Nevertheless, installations in Korea have increased by 12% on average per year since 2013.

In Western Europe, growth of 19% was driven by Germany and Italy. With 2018 sales growth of 27%, Italy is Europe’s second largest industrial robot market. Growth in Eastern Europe declined, apart from in the Russian Federation and Poland, both of which reported sales growth of over 40% compared with 2017.

Sales forecast to pick up from 2020 after a flat 2019

Looking ahead, the IFR predicts a flat 2019, driven by economic uncertainty, with robot sales of 421,000 units. However, assuming a more stable global economy in 2020, the IFR forecasts a healthy average annual sales growth of 12% on average 2020 to 2022.