Sales of robots in the UK soared by 68% last year, according to the latest statistics from the British Robot and Automation Association (Bara). This is more than twice as fast as growth in the global market, which expanded by about 30% in 2011 to hit a new peak of about 150,000 robot sales worldwide, according to the International Federation of Robotics.
The most dramatic growth in the UK has come from the automotive and automotive components sectors, which mushroomed by 235% and 176% respectively. However, this is offset by an 8% drop in sales to the food and drink sector, and a 76% decline in demand from the pharmaceutical, health and medical sectors.
“We are delighted with such an increase in industrial robot sales over the year,” says Bara chairman, Mike Wilson, “although most of this has been within the automotive industry. Most sectors have experienced increases and this represents the best growth statistics since 1997.”
Wilson adds that the Government is putting “considerable money” into promoting robotics, recognising that robots create jobs. More than 100 companies are using the Government-backed free automation review which is open to any UK manufacturer. “This should enhance growth in robotics over the next couple of years,” Wilson predicts.
Barry Weller, Mitsubishi Electric’s robots product manager for the UK, expects about 1,000 new robots to be installed in the UK this year, creating 2,000–3,000 jobs. However, the UK’s total robot population of 14,000 is the same as the number China installed last year alone, and pales by comparison with Germany’s installed base of 145,000 robots.
Globally, 2011 saw demand for robots expanding from the automotive sector, which drove a market recovery during 2010, to other sectors. Sales in emerging economies, such as China, also helped to propel the global growth.
ABB’s head of robotics, Per Vegard Nerseth (above), reports that the recovery in the global industrial robot market that started in 2010, continued strongly through 2011. “Growth in the automotive sector continued unabated,” he says, “and was strongly supported by an increased uptake in growth segments such as electronics, solar and food and beverage.
“We fully expect this growth to continue through 2012 with the increased demand throughout the Asia region continuing to be an important factor,” Nerseth adds. “Consequently, we also expect a significant shift in manufacturing footprint to Asia to be maintained.”
2011 was also one of the most successful years in the German robot-maker Kuka’s history, with turnover in its robotics division up by 40%. In response, it has increased its production capacity.
Despite the economic slowdown in Europe, sales of robots in the region were buoyant last year. Many robot suppliers expect this trend to continue in 2012. For example, Fanuc is reporting record booking levels for 2011 and has increased its output to 60,000 robots a year in anticipation of further growth. Yaskawa’s European robot sales grew by about 40% last year and the company reports that the demand has continued into 2012.