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Sales of AGVs and mobile robots will hit $1.5bn this year

16 May, 2018

Demand for automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) used in manufacturing is “exploding”, with global sales set to reach nearly $1.5bn this year, and revenues from AMRs expected to grow by almost 75% during 2018. A new report from Interact Analysis predicts that, within five years, mobile robots will account for a quarter of all robot shipments for manufacturing applications, with sales worth more than $14bn.

This rapid growth – which Interact describes as “a tectonic shift” – reflects the increasing automation of material flow operations by OEMs and end-users.

“Shifts in consumer buying habits – from electronics through to food products and even cars – are placing increasing demand for flexibility and speed on manufacturing facilities,” explains Interact’s research director, Ash Sharma. “Mass personalisation – the trend for products to have a large number of options and customisation – is placing huge pressure on manufacturing lines. Rather than simply producing the same product thousands of times over, consumer demands now mean that production lines need to be able to efficiently produce high volumes of products, but in low (or even individual) batch sizes.”

According to the report, this trend is driving demand for mobile robots (and other forms of automation) for several reasons. First, the flow of materials towards, and away from, production lines needs to be more flexible and also more precise. AGVs and AMRs can do this more efficiently than humans.

Second, production lines need to be more flexible and able to adjust physically. Compared to using fixed conveyor belts, which can be difficult and costly to adapt, mobile robots can be a more flexible and efficient, and therefore offer a more cost-effective way of supplying materials.

Also driving the surge in demand for AGVs and AMRs are the shortage of skilled staff and rising labour costs. Tasks such as feeding production lines with raw materials, transporting finished or partly-finished goods, and handling pallets, are now being automated to cut costs and reduce reliance on human labour.

Omron was one of the first major automation players to enter the market for mobile robots when it acquired the US manufacturer Adept in 2015

Despite the synergies between fixed and mobile robotics, none of the world’s top 10 vendors of industrial robots appear in Interact’s top 10 global ranking of mobile robot suppliers. Manufacturers of industrial robots and industrial automation equipment accounted for just 4% of mobile robot revenues last year.

The market that supplies mobile robot robots for manufacturing is currently fragmented, with the five largest suppliers – Elettric80, Daifuku, Dematic, JBT and Siasun – accounting for just 35% of revenues last year. In the market for traditional fixed industrial robots, the top five suppliers represent close to 60% of global sales.

However, Interact expects this to change considerably over the coming years. The high growth rate predicted for mobile robots is attracting increasing numbers of “traditional” industrial automation and robot companies into this sector. Acquisitions are the most likely entry route for many. Early movers have included Kuka (which acquired Swisslog in 2014) and Omron (which acquired Adept in 2015). Recently, Teradyne bought the Danish firm, Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR), and others are likely to follow, Interact predicts.

Revenues from traditional industrial robots still dwarf those from mobile robots and, despite the rapid growth projected for mobile robots, this will continue to be the case. However, Interact predicts that, within five years, mobile robots will account for 25% of all robotics shipments in the manufacturing sector, with revenues exceeding $14bn by 2022.

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