Here are some of the many questions answered by the newly released survey World Robotics 2000 produced by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE) in cooperation with the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). The following questions and answers provide an executive summary of this 350 page long in-depth analysis:
How many robots are now working out there in industry? 742,500 worldwide - Japan 402,200; United States 92,900; Germany 81,200; Italy 35,000; Rep. of Korea 33,700; France 18,200; United Kingdom 11,500; Spain 10,500; Russian Federation 10,000.
And in 2003? 862,000 robots worldwide - Japan 384,700; United States 155,400; Germany 109,500; Italy 57,600; France 28,200; United Kingdom 14,900.
What was the evolution between 1998 and 1999? World market for industrial robots surged by 15%, mainly as a result of skyrocketing sales in the United States (+38%) and the European Union (+16%). Hesitant recovery in Japan (5%) but more pronounced in the Republic of Korea (70%).
And for the first half of 2000? The boom continues (12%), Europe (14%) and a relative decrease in the United States (-9%).
Why invest in robots? Growth in robot investment is spurred by plummeting robot prices and radically improved performance: an average robot sold in 1999 would have cost only a fifth of what a robot, with the same performance, would have cost in 1990.
And not hire people? The relative prices of robots have fallen from 100 in 1990 to 31 in 1999, without quality adjustment, and to 15 when taking into account quality improvements in robots.
How many robots per employee? It is constantly increasing in manufacturing industry: Japan 280 per 10,000; Singapore 148; Rep. of Korea 116; Germany 102; Sweden 69; Italy 67; Finland 51; Benelux 49; United States 48; France 48; Switzerland 46; Austria 44; Spain 41 Australia 25; Denmark 24; United Kingdom 23; Norway 16.
In the car industry? One robot for every 6 production workers in the motor vehicle industry in Japan, there were 13 production workers for every robot in use in Italy, 14 in Germany and 16 in the United States.
How are service robots doing? Still hesitant but expected to take off - Total world stock of service robots at the end of 1999 can be estimated at a minimum of some 6,600 units - 50% are domestic robots; underwater robots (14%); medical robots (12%). Cleaning robots make up another 6% while the aggregate "all other" has a share of 23%.
What is their future? In the period 2000-2003, the stock of service robots is forecasted to increase by 49,400 units, of which 40,000 are domestic robots (excluding vacuum cleaning robots) and 5,000 are medical robots. The overall market for domestic robots is forecasted to exceed 300,000 units, indicating that a new phase is opening in the service robot market. Small robots at a reasonable price are about to enter the houses of a large number of persons.
World market for industrial robots surged by 15% in 1999, compared to 1998,
according to the annual survey World Robotics 2000, just published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE) in cooperation with the International Federation of Robotics (IFR),
... mainly as a result of skyrocketing sales in the United States and the European Union
Between 1994 and 1999, yearly sales of multipurpose industrial robots in the United States almost doubled to just over 15,000 units. In 1999 alone, sales surged by a record 38%, underscoring the robust growth in the American economy (see table 1 and figure 1). In the European Union, sales rose by 16% in 1999 to just over 25,000 units. The highest growth was recorded in France with almost 90% over the 1998 level. "Never before have the United States and the European Union invested in so many industrial robots in a single year", says Jan Karlsson, responsible for the ECE/IFR publication. Since 1994, annual robot investment has doubled.
Hesitant recovery in Japan but more pronounced in the Republic of Korea...
The market for all types of robots (multipurpose and dedicated industrial robots) in Japan rose by a modest 5% in 1999 over 1998 to about 35,600 units, which was the second lowest figure recorded in the 1990's, indicating that the investment climate for automation equipment is still depressed in Japan (see table 1 and figure 1).
Following the 75% drop in sales in 1998, the market recovered sharply in the Republic of Korea. Sales increased by almost 70% to 2,400 units. This, however, is still less than half of the record levels of 1995-1997, before the "Asian crisis" started.
Why this surge in robotics?
One of the explanations is that there has been robust economic growth and rapidly falling relative prices of robots, which implies that robot investments are becoming more and more profitable. "It is not unusual that the pay-off time for a robot investment is in the range of 1-2 years", says Jan Karlsson, ECE, who has analysed many case studies of robot investments. When at the same time the economic life span is in the range of 12-16 years (for robot lines in the car industry the life span is significantly shorter) the competitiveness of robot users can be greatly enhanced. The increased manufacturing productivity recorded in many countries in recent years, is a result of a higher share of investments in robotics, IT and more intelligent use of these production factors.
Secondly, robots are becoming more and more sophisticated with rapidly improved performances (see illustrations below) that open up a whole range of new possible applications.
In some countries there is a shortage in the supply of labour for industrial work, which drives up investment in robotics. With present demographic trends this shortage will be even more pronounced in years to come, which will further stimulate robotics investment. "Who would actually be interested in carrying out the kind of heavy and repetitive lifts involved in handling beverage crates, for example?" (see figure 3), asks Jan Karlsson. "Here robots are at their best - improving better working conditions. There are many more for such work places that ought to be robotized", continues Jan Karlsson.
Another driving force behind the robotization is the requirement by industry that components and subassemblies are carried out with high and constant manufacturing quality which in many cases can only be done by robots.
How many robots are working out there in industry?
Total accumulated yearly sales, since industrial robots started to be introduced in industry at the end of the 1960s, amounted to some 1,100,000 units at the end of 1999, including the dedicated industrial robots installed in Japan. Many of the early robots, however, have by now been taken out of service. The stock of industrial robots in actual operation is therefore lower. ECE and IFR estimate the total worldwide stock of operational industrial robots at the end of 1999 to be 740,000 units compared with 720,000 units at the end of 1998, representing an increase of 3% (see table 1 and figure 2).
Japan accounts for more than half of the world robot stock - largely because the Japanese figures include all types of industrial robots. Its share, however, is continuously diminishing. In 1998, the Japanese robot stock actually fell in absolute numbers, albeit by 0.3% only. This decline, however, accelerated in 1999 when the stock fell by 2.3%. In the European Union and the United States, on the other hand, the stock of industrial robots rose by an impressive 11% and 14%, respectively.
Forecasts up to and including 2003: Double digit annual growth
The world market for industrial robots is projected to increase from 81,500 units in 1999 to almost 120,000 in 2003, (these figures include all types of industrial robots in Japan), or by a yearly average growth of 10% (see table 1 and figure 1). The worldwide sales, excluding Japan, for multipurpose industrial robots are forecasted to surge from 46,000 units to over 72,000 units by 2003, a yearly average growth of 12%.
Sales in Japan are projected to show a rather modest growth in 2000, compared with 1999. Sales are, however, expected to pick up as from 2001 and through the rest of the forecasting period as a result of both economic recovery and an increasing demand for replacement investment. Between 1999 and 2003 sales are projected to increase from 35,600 units to about 47,500 units (see table 1 and figure 1).
The growth in worldwide robotics is mainly concentrated in North America and Europe. Between 1999 and 2003, sales of industrial robots in the United States are projected to increase from 15,000 units to 24,000 units, or by a yearly average increase of over 12%. For the same period, the market in the European Union is projected to increase from about 25,000 to about 37,000, or a yearly average increase of 10%.
Handling of beverage crates and (below) depalletizing craft paper bags
How many robots will be working in industry by the end of 2003?
The worldwide stock of operational industrial robots is forecasted to increase from 743,000 units by the end of 1999 to 892,000 units by the end of 2003 (see table 1 and figure 2). When excluding Japan, whose stock is projected to continue to decrease until 2001, the remaining world operational stock of multipurpose industrial robots is forecasted to increase from 340,000 units to 507,000 units.
In the United States, the operational stock of multipurpose industrial robots is forecasted to reach 155,000 units in 2003. The projection for the European Union is 262,000 units, 110,000 of which have been predicted for Germany; 58,000 for Italy; 28,000 for France; and 15,000 for the United Kingdom (see table 1 and figure 2).
Results of the first half of 2000 - the boom continues
Looking at the first half of 2000, the ECE/IFR quarterly survey on order intake of industrial robots showed that worldwide order increased by 12%, compared with the same period in 1999, which was a record year. This figure, however, hides some major differences between regions. While order intake from Europe increased by 14%, it fell by 9% in North America - the fall, however, should be seen in the light of a surge by 90% in the first half of 1999 over 1998. In Asia the market increased by 38% and by 144% in all other regions taken together, which, however, in terms of units is still very small.
Europe and United States are rapidly catching up on Japan...
In the early 1990's, installations of multipurpose industrial robots in the European Union and the United States only amounted to about 20% and 7%, respectively, of Japan's installations of all types of industrial robots. By 1999, the corresponding shares were 71% and 42%, respectively. In fact, it could very well be that the 1999 installations of multipurpose industrial robots in the European Union were higher than the corresponding installations of the same robot types in Japan.
Looking at the operational stock of industrial robots, again relating Japan's stock of all types of robots to those of multipurpose robots only in the European Union and the United States, the same pattern is prevailing. The EU stock rose from 23% in 1990 to 44% of that of Japan in 1999. The corresponding figures for the United States were 14% and 23%, respectively. Again, if data had been available only for multipurpose industrial robots in Japan, it might very well have shown a stock of a magnitude between that of the United States and that of the European Union.
Cheaper and better - Growth in robot investment is spurred by plummeting robot prices and radically improved performance
In the 1990s, prices of industrial robots have been plummeting while at the same time their performance, measured both for mechanical and electronic characteristics, has been continuously improved. A survey made by one major industrial robot producer showed the following improvements during the period 1985-1995:
- Handling capacity+50%
- Reduction in number of componentsfrom 100 to 35
- Mean-time-between-failurefrom 5,000 to 40,000 hours
A more extensive survey carried out by ECE and IFR for the period 1990-1999 shows similar results. In one of the editorials in World Robotics 2000, Dr. Akeel and Mr. Rutledge, Fanuc Robotics North America, illustrate even higher performance improvements for the period 1990-2000: speed +100%; repeatability +500%; payload +100%; computational capabilities 200 fold.
In the United States, for instance, prices of industrial robots have fallen from index 100 to 42 in the period 1990-1999, without taking into account that robots installed in 1999 had a much higher performance than those installed in 1990 (see figure 4 and table 2). When taking into account quality changes it was estimated that the index would have fallen to 21. In other words, an average robot sold in 1999 would have cost only a fifth of what a robot, with the same performance, would have cost in 1990, if it ever would have been possible to produce such a robot in that year.
At the same time, the index of labour compensation in the American business sector increased from 100 to 137 (see figure 4 and table 2). This implies that the relative prices of robots have fallen from 100 in 1990 to 31 in 1999, without quality adjustment, and to 15 when taking into account quality improvements in robots. Equivalent data are presented for some other major robot using countries.
The number of robots per employee is constantly increasing...
Table 3 shows the number of robots per 10,000 persons employed in the manufacturing industry. Four groups of countries can be distinguished: the first group consists of Japan, Singapore and the Republic of Korea with densities ranging from about 280 to 116. These numbers are, however, not directly comparable to those of the other countries because the latter apply a more strict definition of robots.
Among countries applying a more restrictive definition of industrial robots, Germany is in the lead with 102 robots per 10,000 persons employed, followed by Italy and Sweden with just below 70. In the third group of countries, the densities vary between 50 and 40.
One robot for every 6 production workers in the motor vehicle industry in Japan...
Table 4 shows another measure of robot density: number of robots per 10,000 production workers in the motor vehicle industry. Here the numbers are 5 to 10 times higher than densities based on all persons employed in the manufacturing industry. Counting all types of robots in Japan, the density in 1999 in the motor vehicle industry would be about 1,700. For the other countries it varied between 390 in the United Kingdom and 760 in Italy.
In Japan it is estimated that in 1999 there was one industrial robot for every 6 production workers in the motor vehicle industry. In Italy there were 13 production workers for every robot in use, 14 in Germany and 16 in the United States.
Diffusion of service robots - still hesitant but expected to take off
Except for lawn mowing robots, almost all service robots installed up to 1999 and inclusive, are robots for professional use. The major application areas for professional robots are: medical robots, mobile robot platform for multiple use, underwater robots and cleaning robots. Figure 4 shows a selection of service robots.
Total world stock of service robots at the end of 1999 can be estimated at a minimum of some 6,600 units.
Of the total number of units of service robots installed up to and including 1999, the domestic robots with their 3,000 units account for almost 50%. Underwater robots and medical robots account for 14% and 12%, respectively. Cleaning robots make up another 6% while the aggregate "all other" has a share of 23%.
Looking at the market in terms of value in US dollars of the total installations in the different areas, the distribution in submarkets is quite different. Medical robots alone represent more than 40% of the market. Underwater robots represent almost another 40%. These high shares are a result of their high unit value. The value share for cleaning robots is the same as their unit share, that is 6%. Due to their low unit value, domestic robots represented a very small proportion of the overall market (1%). The very near future commercialisation of vacuum cleaning robots is likely to change considerably their share in the total market for service robots.
In the period 2000-2003, the stock of service robots is forecasted to increase by 49,400 units, of which 40,000 are domestic robots (excluding vacuum cleaning robots) and 5,000 are medical robots.
Domestic vacuum cleaning robots are about to be introduced on the market at the end of 2000. Sales could, provided the price is right, take off at such a rate that by the year 2003 more than a quarter of million units could be reached. This forecast is, however, very uncertain.
The overall market for domestic robots is forecasted to exceed 300,000 units, indicating that a new phase is opening in the service robot market. Small robots at a reasonable price are about to enter the houses of a large number of persons.
Robots for disabled and handicapped people have not yet taken off as could be expected from the potential both with respect to need and existing technological level of the equipment. In a longer perspective, say in the next 10 years, and taking into account the demographic shifts and the advancement of technology, assistive robots for disabled and handicapped people are certain to be a key area for service robots. Important research institutions are focusing on developing prototypes of this kind of robot.
The market for medical robots shows impressive potential growth both in terms of unit sales and revenues.
Concerning the overall sector of service robots, the main restriction in the diffusion is the price but also the fact that the potential customers are not always aware of the effectiveness and reliability of the robots and of the possible cost savings using them. The wide use of PC, mobile phones and the creation of "intelligent kitchens" and "intelligent homes" in which various types of equipment are connected and controlled by PCs or mobile phones, will greatly facilitate the introduction of domestic service robots.
From left to right: cleaning robot; underwater robot; lawn mowing robot; vacuum cleaning robot
Figure 5 (concluded)
From left to right: surgical robot; surgical robot; assistive robot; assistive robot; surveillance robot
The publication World Robotics 2000 - Statistics, Market Analysis, Forecasts, Case Studies and Profitability of Robot Investment is available, quoting Sales No. GV.E.00.0.14 or ISBN No. 92-1-101029-2, through the usual United Nations sales agents in various countries or from the United Nations Office at Geneva (see address below), priced at US$ 120:
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