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Global robot population heads towards two million

30 September, 2014

More than 200,000 industrial robots will be installed worldwide this year – 15% more than in 2013 – and the total number in use in factories around the world could reach two million by the end of 2017, according to new figures released by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).

IFR president Arturo Baroncelli predicts that between 2015 and 2017, the number of installed industrial robots will grow by around 12% per year. In the Americas and Europe, sales will rise by about 6%, and in Asia/Australia by about 16% per year.

But the IFR’s World Robotics 2014 report also contains a warning from a robotics expert of challenges that lie ahead for the robot industry. Dr Stefan-Markus Baginski, a senior manager for installations, control systems and joining technologies at BMW, believes that the robot community has to take the responsibility not only for developing new technology, but also for persuading society to accept new directions in automation.

“To a lot of people, the use of robots still creates a sense of fear,” he says, “but at the same time they use their iPhones to automate daily activities. This occurs when technology is not explained properly and the benefits for all are not understood by the masses. With deeper understanding, we would gain even more for the future development of robot technology.”

Baginski also argues that we need to simplify the effort, training and expertise required to program and use robots. He points out that each robot supplier has its own programming language and sees an opportunity to develop open standards for robots, similar to those that exist for PLCs.

Baginski argues that we are not yet using the capabilities of PLCs and robot controllers to their full potential. He points out how our mobile devices link extensively with phone networks, social platforms and cloud services. “All of these efforts are to create a better service for us and make our life much more convenient,” he says. “To adapt this to a fleet of robots is one of the challenges of the future. Imagine how much energy, maintenance effort, space and hardware we could save if, for example, the robot controller were just a cloud service to which all robots were connected to keep their individual program running.”

Annual global sales of industrial robots. The figures from 2014-2017 are forecasts.
Source: IFR World Robotics 2014

The IFR report confirms that the automotive sector is still the largest global user of industrial robots. It adds that the cyclical pattern of demand traditionally associated with this sector has largely disappeared since 2010, with investments rising constantly since then and expected to do so for the foreseeable future.

The IFR predicts increasing orders for robots from other sectors, such as the rubber and plastics, pharmaceutical, food and beverage, and the metal and machinery industries. It adds that the electrical/electronics industry is increasing its investments in robots for production automation as well as in retooling for new production processes.

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