Ash has spent close to 20 years in technology research on several sectors, including industrial automation and smart manufacturing, smart home, solar power and energy storage, drones and robotics, medical technology and building automation. Ash is Senior Research Director for our robotics & warehouse automation research, amongst other topics.
AGVs (automated guided vehicles) have been used in manufacturing environments for decades, yet currently demand for them and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) is exploding with revenues set to reach nearly $1.5bn this year. Automation is nothing new, however major OEMs and end-users are striving to automate an increasing number of functions throughout their facilities – with material flow now making the top of the list. As such, revenues from mobile robots used in manufacturing will grow by nearly 75 percent this year, according to our recently released report.
The Tectonic Shift in Manufacturing
Shifts in consumer buying habits, for simple electronics through to food products and even cars, are placing increasing demand for flexibility and speed on manufacturing facilities. Mass personalization – the trend for products to have a large number of options and customization 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.
This trend is helping drive demand for mobile robots (and other automation) for a number of reasons. First, the flow of materials to and away from production lines needs to be more flexible and also more precise. AGVs and AMRs can do this more efficiently than human workers. Secondly, production lines need to be more flexible and able to adjust physically. As such, rather than using often fixed conveyor belts for material supply, which are difficult and costly to adapt; mobile robots can be much more flexible, efficient and therefore cost effective.
Aside from the underlying changes in production requirements, the need to automate is further acerbated by a lack of available workers and rising labor costs. These factors, amongst others, are creating a surge in demand for AGVs and AMRs, and huge growth is forecast as a result.
Mobile Robots Complement Fixed Automation
Fixed industrial robots have been used in manufacturing for decades. These robots have been used for some time on the actual production line to automate tasks such as welding, assembly and painting. A key driver of mobile robot growth today, however, is the more widespread use of robotics for material handling. Tasks such as feeding production lines with raw materials, transporting finished (or partly finished) goods and handling pallets are now being flexibly automated. The reasons have been discussed already: to reduce cost and reduce reliance on human labor.
Automating material handling is a natural evolution in manufacturing. Manufacturers have long been using robotics and are constantly striving for methods to better efficiency and lower cost, and hence are looking at what else within their facilities can be automated.
Revenues from industrial robots dwarfed those of mobile robots in 2017; and despite the rapid growth projection for mobile robots, they will remain by far the smaller portion of the overall robotics industry. Our upcoming report forecasts continued growth of industrial robots over the next five years and revenues that will exceed $14bn by 2022. Within the next five years, mobile robots will account for 25% of all robotics shipments within the manufacturing sector.
Specialist Material Handling Automation Vendors Dominate
Despite the synergies between industrial (fixed) and mobile robots, the largest suppliers of industrial AGVs & AMRs do not also supply industrial robots or industrial automation equipment. In fact, suppliers of industrial robots and industrial automation equipment accounted for just 4 percent of mobile robot revenues last year. This will undoubtedly change over time. The high and consistent growth projected for mobile robots, within an existing customer base, will likely attract more industrial automation and robot companies to enter the arena. Acquisition will be the most likely entry route for many, with leading automation and industrial robot vendors dwarfing mobile robot vendors in size and scale. Early movers Omron (which acquired Adept) and Kuka (which acquired Swisslog) are already benefiting from their purchases, with others likely to follow in their footsteps.
Despite this, none of the top 10 vendors of industrial robots appear in our top 10 rankings for mobile robots. The mobile robot supplier landscape is also much more fragmented: the top 5 suppliers of mobile robots used in manufacturing – Elettric80, Daifuku, Dematic, JBT, and Siasun) – captured just 35 percent of the market last year. For industrial (fixed) robots, the top 5 suppliers represented closer to 60 percent of the market. We expect this situation to change considerably in the coming years.
The above analysis is taken from a new Interact Analysis report – “Mobile Robots – 2018“, an in-depth report on mobile robots used in material handling applications which was published last month. If you’d like to learn more about the report or have any questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org