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Jan Zhang Author
Senior Research Director – China
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Jan has more than 10 years of experience in industrial automation and manufacturing research. Jan is leading Interact Analysis’ APAC operations and is also research director for our industrial automation and robotics research.

  • In the 2nd half of 2018 demand for industrial robots slowed significantly. This followed the 20% increase in industry revenues in 2017. Demand in the 1st half of 2019 has so far continued to be weak, but we forecast it to recover in the 2nd half of the year.
  • Slowing investment in automotive and 3C electronics, which are the two main end-user markets of industrial robots are the main cause.
  • Not all types of industrial robots have been affected by this. Collaborative robots maintain high growth rates – although from a relatively small base. Delta and SCARA robot revenues also grew steadily in 2018.

After experiencing an impressive 20% growth in revenues in 2017, the global industrial robot market entered an adjustment period in the 2nd half of 2018, and market growth slowed significantly. Many of the leading vendors only saw single-digit revenue growth for their industrial robot business (e.g. FANUC, YASKAWA), a few of them even had a slight decrease (e.g. KUKA). Nabtesco, the dominant supplier for RV reducers that are used in industrial robots, and has a nearly 70% share of the market, cut its 2018 annual revenue forecast for reduction gears by more than 20% from 83.9 billion Yen to 65.8 billion Yen, further highlighting the weakness of the robot market. This situation has continued in the first half of 2019. China, the world’s largest robot market, started to see negative growth in robot production in September 2018. According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, industrial robot production units in the last four months of 2018 was only 44,103 – 5% lower than the same period in 2017.


Decline in Investment in Automotive and Smartphone Industries

Automotive is the largest end-user for industrial robots, accounting for over 30% share of revenues. 2018 was a tough year for the entire automotive industry. In the 1st half of 2018, the global market performed relatively well, but since the second half of 2018, sales in Europe and China – which are the two largest auto markets – began to fall, which eventually led to the first decline in global auto sales in seven years and naturally triggered the downturn in automation and robot investment in the sector.

The two strongest growing sub-sectors in the electrical & electronics industry, are home appliances and the 3C industry (computer, consumer, communication). In 2017, production lines for iPhones and other smartphones contributed the most part of growth for this sector. Whilst in 2018, this sector experienced the most significant decline in growth. Some might blame the decline in the industry growth on the US-China trade tensions, but in fact, the main reason is the decline in demand for Apple’s iPhones and less technology innovation for new models. Slowing shipments of smartphones is likely one of the main reasons why Apple has not started ramping up a new productions lines for its next generation of iPhones, and hence a severe cut back on investment in robots and manufacturing equipment. As iPhone sales in 2019 are still showing no signs of improving, the smartphone segment is unlikely to recover in the short run.


Articulated Robots Worst Hit in Downturn

Key applications in the automotive industry include welding, painting and handling. These applications mainly use 6-axis articulated industrial robots that can carry a large load, and which offer high performance. Impacted by the decline of investment in automotive manufacturing, articulated robots with payloads over 20kg have suffered sluggish sales. Conversely smaller 6-axis robots (<=20kg) including both traditional industrial robots and collaborative robots are enjoying good growth, especially in applications like low-end welding and machine tool loading/unloading. Whilst automotive OEMs have cut back investment in robots, there appears to be increasing demand for robots from tier-1 and tier-2 vendors (automotive parts and automotive electronics vendors). Our latest industrial robot report forecasts that low and medium payload robots will grow faster than high and heavy-duty robot types as a result.


Collaborative Robots Enjoy High Growth

The nascent collaborative robot market shows a completely different growth trend from traditional articulated industrial robots. Collaborative robot revenues grew by more than 60 percent in 2018 according to our recent report on the market. The industry was worth less than $400m in the previous year but grew to nearly $600m in 2018. Rather than taking share from traditional industrial robots, collaborative robots are enjoying success in new markets and applications that haven’t been well covered or served by traditional industrial robots.

Delta robots is one of the smallest product segments of industrial robots, but it has performed well and slightly above our expectations in 2018, mainly driven by the strong performance of food & beverage and pharmaceutical industries which use Delta robots for packaging and sorting application.

The SCARA robot market is seeing mixed performance. On one hand the slowdown in 3C manufacturing investment has a negative impact on its growth; on the other hand, there are more manufacturers entering the SCARA market with new product types which are aimed at new industry applications. Because of their compact structure, SCARA robots can effectively smaller work spaces, enhance the flexibility of the production line, and improve production efficiency. As a result, more types of SCARA products have emerged on the market, including inverted SCARA for some assembly application, or SCARA products with payloads over 20kg, for use in the industries such as home appliance, automotive electronics, lithium batteries, and main applications include assembly/material handling of large workpieces.

Aside from the traditional applications in the manufacturing industry sector, there are some new emerging segments with increasing demand for industrial robots such as warehouse logistics and lithium-ion battery manufacturing. In the short-term, no industry is likely to create a similar market size for industrial robots to replace the automotive or 3C electronics industry, so the contribution of other emerging general industry to the growth rate of the entire industrial robot market is somewhat limited. However, in the long run, because the main drivers for the growth of robots stay unchanged (e.g. rising labor costs and increasing lack of skilled labor, the desire to improve efficiency and product quality), there will be continuous investment in automation and robots. We expect the market to gradually recover from Q3 this year and still have a very positive view in the long-term.


Related Research

Industrial Robots – 2018 – a highly-detailed report providing analysis of  the market for industrial robots used in manufacturing. 

Collaborative Robots – 2018 – the novelty of the collaborative robot market plays a part in the absence of accurate market data available. This report provides current and accurate market information, incorporating revenue and unit data on a regional and industry level.

If you’d like to learn more about these reports or have any questions, please contact us at info@interactanalysis.com

Posted by Jan Zhang

Jan has more than 10 years of experience in industrial automation and manufacturing research. Jan is leading Interact Analysis' APAC operations and is also research director for our industrial automation and robotics research. Read More