The International Federation of Robotics (IFR), Germany, released its annual World Robotics Report, which showed an annual global sales value of $16.5 billion in 2018. The IFR said 422,000 robots shipped globally in 2018, an increase of 6% compared with 2017 shipments. However, the group said shipments in 2019 will recede from the record levels in 2018, but also expects an average growth of 12% per year from 2020 to 2022.

In the service robots category, the IFR said the sales value of service robots for professional use increased 32% to $9.2 billion in 2018. Logistics systems, such as autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) represent 41% of all units sold, followed by inspection and maintenance robots (39%).

For the first time, the report analyzed the market for collaborative industrial robots (cobots). The IFR said that just under 14,000 cobots were installed in 2018, an increase of 23% compared to 2017 shipments (11,100 units).

“We saw a dynamic performance in 2018 with a new sales record, even as the main customers for robots – the automotive and electrical-electronics industry – had a difficult year,” says Junji Tsuda, president. “The U.S.-China trade conflict imposes uncertainty to the global economy – customers tend to postpone investments. But, it is exciting that the mark of 400,000 robot installations per year has been passed for the first time. The IFR’s longer term outlook shows that the ongoing automation trend and continued technical improvements will result in double digit growth – with an estimate of about 584,000 units in 2022.”

China gains share

Asia remains the world’s largest industrial robot market, although installations in China and the Republic of Korea declined. However, installations in Japan increased, giving Asia an overall 1% growth rate.

In Europe, the second largest market, installations grew by 14%, and reached a new peak for the sixth year in a row. In the United States, the growth rate reached 20% compared with 2017, marking another record level for the sixth year in a row.

The IFR reported that the Top 5 markets for industrial markets, which represent 74% of all global robotics installations, were China, Japan, Republic of Korea, the United States, and Germany.

U.S. robot installations increased for the eighth year in a row, with about 40,300 units shipped, representing a 22% increase compared to 2017.

“Since 2010, the driver of the growth in all manufacturing industries in the U.S. has been the ongoing trend to automate production in order to strengthen the U.S. industries in both domestic and global markets,” according to the report.

In terms of annual installations, the United States moved past Korea to third position on the list.

Cobot analysis

The definition of cobot “implies that a cobot is necessarily an industrial robot as defined in ISO 8372:2012,” and said cobots are designed to perform tasks in the same workspace as human workers, according to IFR.

“Despite a very strong media attention of cobots, the number of units installed is still very low, with a share of 3.24% only,” when compared to large industrial robots, the report says. However, the group did report a 23% increase in cobot installations in 2018 when compared to 2017.

Service robots booming

The report said the total number of professional service robots sold in 2018 rose by 61%, with more than 271,000 units shipped (168,000 in 2017).

“In terms of value, the sales forecast for 2019 indicates a cumulative volume of around $12.6 billion for the professional service robot segment,” says Dr. Susanne Bieller, general secretary. “Robots for logistics, medical and field services are the most significant contributors.”

In logistics systems, estimated at $3.7 billion in 2018, showed a 53% growth compared to 2017. In units, almost 111,000 logistics systems were sold in 2018, which is 60% more than in 2017 (69,000 units).

“The trend to use logistic systems in non-manufacturing industries has been strongly driven by warehouse solutions for major e-commerce companies,” says IFR.

Field robots, which represent agricultural robots, milking robots and those used for crop farming and horticulture increased by 8% to $1 billion in 2018, representing 11% of the service robots. With an average growth rate of about 50% per year, sales of field robots are expected to reach 2,400 units in this category by 2022.

Exoskeletons, which support ergonomic working by reducing loads on workers, showed sales of 7,300 units in 2018, up from 6,700 units in 2017.

“There is a high growth potential for this kind of robot,” the IFR says.

U.S. robot manufacturers for logistics

The IFR says European and U.S. service robot manufacturers play an important role, with both regions having a market share of around 45%. However, U.S. companies are very strong in the logistic systems space, while European companies dominate in the field of medical robotics. European and Asian companies are the main producers of the field robotics category, at about 45% market share each.