Robots on the rise: 3 million in global manufacturing by 2020

Global report finds IIoT, competitiveness driving growth in robotics market with China leading the way.

By Bob Vavra, CFE Media September 27, 2017

By 2020, more than one in 10 workers in American automobile plants will be a robot, according to the global forecast of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) in its 2017 World Robotics Report.

It’s one of a series of findings in the 2017 report that indicates the global use of robotics continues to grow rapidly. "It is estimated that by 2020 the worldwide stock of operational industrial robots will increase from about 1,828,000 units at the end of 2016 to 3,053,000 units," IFR officials said in a Sept. 27 press release. "This represents an average annual growth rate of 14% between 2018 and 2020."

That growth rate is concentrated in five countries—China, South Korea, Japan, the United States and Germany—with China’s robotic installation dwarfing the rest of the world. The report stated that by 2020, there will be almost one million robots in manufacturing plants in China, 50% more than all of Europe combined.

"Robots offer high levels of precision and their connectivity will play a key role in new digital manufacturing environments," said IFR president Joe Gemma, in the press release. "Increasing availability enables more and more manufacturers from companies of all sizes to automate." The continued growth of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), or Industrie 4.0 in Europe, is having an impact on both how robots are used and how they are programmed, the report found.

"Robot manufacturers are already developing and commercializing new service models: these are based on real-time data collected by sensors which are attached to robots," the report stated. "Analysts predict a rapidly growing market for cloud robotics in which data from one robot is compared to data from other robots in the same or different locations.

The report added, "Ultimately, the advent of big data in manufacturing could redefine the industry boundaries between equipment makers and manufacturers."

In the United States, the IFR report found that global competition was driving the increasing use of robotics in manufacturing. In 2016, the IFR report stated that U.S. robot installations grew 14%. "The driver for this continued growth since 2010 was the ongoing trend to automate production in order to strengthen the competitiveness of American industries in overseas markets," the report found. "Due to this dynamic development, the robot density in the United States increased considerably—in particular in the automotive industry. With a density of 1,261 installed robots per 10,000 employees the United States ranked second in 2016 after (South Korea)."

Another growth area for robotics is in small to mid-sized manufacturers. "Simplification is a key trend for this market segment. The ongoing need for robots which are easier to use and to program and the increasing need for ever more flexible automation initiated the development of smarter solutions," the report stated. "It is important to provide easy-to-use robots that can easily be integrated into and operated in standard production processes. Robots that are uncomplicated to use will enable the deployment of industrial robots in many industries to sustain efficient and flexible manufacturing."

Bob Vavra, content manager, Plant Engineering, CFE Media,