Industrial Large

Industrial Robotics Market Takes a Breather in 2019

Jan. 2, 2020
On track for more growth in 2020-21, the industrial robotics market declined slightly in 2019 due to several different factors. Here’s what’s on tap for 2020 and beyond.

It’s been more than six decades since engineer Joseph Engelberger and inventory George Devol co-founded the first robotics manufacturing company, Unimation. Five years later Unimate, the world’s first industrial automated robot, made its debut.

Little did its makers know at the time, but this robot would serve as a launching pad for many of its successors, including Kiva robots that efficiently fetch and transport shelves of items from within Amazon’s warehouses; NASA’s Integrated Structured Assembly of Advanced Composites (ISAAC); and the world’s first surgical robot (the da Vinci).

Evolving just as quickly as the technology that drives them, robots are now found in all corners of modern business, government, and healthcare settings. They’re also making their way into our everyday lives. According to Interact Analysis, which tracks the intelligent automation market, the industrial robots market slowed slightly in 2019 but remains on track for more growth in the coming years.

Key Market Drivers

Compared to 2017, where revenues associated with industrial robots increased by 20%, Interact Analysis’ numbers reveal a market decline of 4.3% in 2019. “Automotive and smartphone production declines played a significant part in this downturn. As the largest end-user segment for industrial robots—accounting for over 30% share of revenues—any downturn in this area is always keenly felt in automation and robot investment,” the company reports.

Long-term drivers, both for industrial robots and for automation as a whole, remain very strong, it goes on to say, noting that market growth is expected to pick up at some point in 2020. Then, the market will accelerate further in 2021 thanks to new industry applications, lower prices, and wider use cases.”

In the report, Interact Analysis highlights the importance of new robot types in fueling this growth. In particular, collaborative robots (or “cobots”) that work alongside humans are finding favor in industries not traditionally associated with the use of robots, including food and beverage; logistics; packaging; and life sciences. “Growth in these industries can’t fully compensate for the decrease in the automotive industry, but it does warrant optimism for the future.”

Full Speed Ahead

According to Deloitte, more than half of the robots sold in 2020 will be professional service robots, generating $16 billion in revenue. The firm believes professional service robots will pass industrial robots in terms of units in 2020 and revenue in 2021, Robotics Business Review reports. In its own market report, ABI Research predicts that legacy industrial vendors will see diminished relevance as mobility becomes the driver for growth in robotics.

While Japan remains the largest producer of industrial robots, with an estimated 45% of total production, Interact Analysis says there’s also been significant growth in production capacity and output in China. This can be attributed to a number of factors, including Chinese vendors entering the market and inward investment from traditional industrial giants like ABB, Fanuc, KUKA, and YASKAWA, it reports.

“While it is true growth of industrial robot revenues has slowed down, the reasons for this are clear and, for the most part, beyond the control of the vendors,” the firm concludes. “Despite this, however, there is evidence that the industry is diversifying and putting the foundations in place for significant future growth, making this one of the more exciting spaces to operate in.”

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About the Author

Bridget McCrea | Contributing Writer | Supply Chain Connect

Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers business and technology for various publications.