UN World Robot Statistics 1999

Industrial Robot

ISSN: 0143-991x

Article publication date: 1 February 2000



(2000), "UN World Robot Statistics 1999", Industrial Robot, Vol. 27 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/ir.2000.04927aab.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

UN World Robot Statistics 1999

UN World Robot Statistics 1999

Keywords: Robots, Statistics, Market survey

Sales of industrial robots are booming in Europe and North America but plummeting in Japan and Asia

Worldwide sales of industrial robots peaked in 1990, when they reached over 81,000 units. Following the recession in 1991-1993, worldwide sales of industrial robots plummeted to about 54,000 units in 1993. The world robot market then started a period with a sharp recovery which peaked in 1997 when it reached a level of 85,000 units. In 1998, however, sales plummeted by over 16 per cent to 71,000 units (see Table I and Figure 1).

The large drop in sales between 1990 and 1993/1994 was mainly due to the sharp drop in the supply of robots from Japan, from 60,000 units to under 30,000 units in 1994. It is interesting to note that in 1994 the gross supply of robots in Japan was three times as large as the net increase in stock, indicating that as many as 20,000 robots were taken out of operation.

The sharp fall in sales in 1998 was mainly a result of plummeting sales, not only in Japan, but also in the Republic of Korea. Sales in these two countries fell by 21 per cent and by as much as 75 per cent, respectively, compared to the 1997 level (see Table I and Figure 1).

When Japan and the Republic of Korea are excluded, the remaining world market shows an impressive increase of 16 per cent in 1998, compared with 1997. This healthy growth rate should also be seen in the light of growth rates of 21 per cent in 1996 and 35 per cent in 1997 (the corresponding growth rates for total world market were only 11 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively).

After three years of yearly growth rates of the order of 30 per cent, the market in the USA fell by 5 per cent in 1996. In 1997, the market was again booming, showing a growth of 28 per cent over 1996, reaching a record 12,500 units. In 1998, however, sales dropped by 13 per cent in terms of units and by 7 per cent in terms of value (see Table'I'and Figure 1). This was most likely just a temporary setback, since order intake from the US market skyrocketed by 90 per cent in the first half of 1999, compared with 1998.

A steady growth in the European robot market

The European robot market increased by 10 per cent in 1998, to about 22,000 units (see Table I). The order intake in the first half of 1999 increased by 32 per cent over the same period in 1998, indicating that 1999 will see a continued surge in robot investments.

Growth in 1998 was, however, rather unevenly distributed among countries. In the eight smaller western European countries growth was as large as 28 per cent (see Table I). In Spain, Denmark and Finland, growth varied between 50 per cent and over 70 per cent.

Among the larger countries, Germany recorded a growth of 10 per cent and Italy 19 per cent. In France sales dropped by 4 per cent, and by as much as 29 per cent in the UK. This, however, is not unusual for the UK, which has for years shown a pattern of surging growth every second year and sharp falls in the years in between.

Asia is a depressing market - for how long?

As was shown above, sales plummeted in Japan and the Republic of Korea. In Singapore, Taiwan, Province of China, Thailand and other Asian emerging markets, the previously good conditions for robot investment have come to a halt - at least temporarily (see Table I). In Australia the market fell by 34 per cent.

The value of the world robot market fell 13 per cent in 1998

The value of the 1998 world market was estimated at $4.2 billion, down 13 per cent from 1997. Measured in national currencies, the market fell by 48 per cent in the Republic of Korea (measured in US dollars), 33 per cent in the UK, 14 per cent in Japan and 7 per cent in the USA. In Germany the market value was flat while it increased by 13 per cent in France and 19 per cent in Italy. It should be noted, however, that the robot units only account for about a third of total robot system costs.

Estimate of the worldwide operational stock of industrial robots

The total accumulated yearly sales, since industrial robots began to be introduced to industries at the end of the 1960s, amounted at the end of 1998 to some 1,020,000 units. 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 1998 at 720,000 units compared with just under 700,000 units at the end of 1997, representing an increase of 3 per cent over 1997 (see Table II).

Japan accounts for more than half of the world robot stock. Its share, however, is continuously diminishing. In 1998, the robot stock in Japan actually fell in absolute numbers.

Forecasts - projected yearly sales of robots revised downwards

  1. 1.

    Worldwide sales:

    • 1998: 71,000 units;

    • 2002: 97,000 units (+ 8 per cent per year).

  2. 2.

    Worldwide operational stock:

    • 1998: 720,000 units;

    • 2002: 800,000 units (+ 2.7 per cent per year).

The world market for industrial robots is projected to increase from 71,000 units in 1998 to 97,000 in 2002, or by a yearly average of 8 per cent (see Table I and Figure 1). These projections are significantly revised downwards, compared to those in the previous issue of World Robotics, mainly because of projected stagnation in the Asian markets.

Sales in Japan continue to be sluggish . . .

Sales in Japan are projected to be flat in 1999 compared with 1998. By 2002, however, sales are projected to have recovered to the 1997 level of 43,000 units (see Table I and Figure 1). In this context it should be noted that a very large share of the new robots supplied will replace older robots taken out of operation. In 1997, for instance, more than two-thirds of the Japanese supply were replacement investment. In 1998 more robots were estimated to have been taken out of operation than new robots installed. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, before the economic slump occurred in 1992/1993, a large number of robots were installed in Japan. The peak occurred in 1990 with over 60,000 robots installed. At the end of the forecasting period these robots are most likely to be replaced. For this reason higher growth rates are projected for the end of the forecasting period. Despite this, the stock of operational robots is expected to contract continuously.

The growth in worldwide robotics is mainly concentrated in North America and Europe (see Table I and Figure 1). Between 1998 and 2002, sales of industrial robots in the USA are projected to increase from 10,900 units to 15,600 units, a total increase of 43 per cent, or by an yearly average increase of just over 9 per cent. In the same period the market in Europe is projected to increase from about 22,000 to about 32,000, an increase of 45 per cent, or a yearly average increase of 10 per cent.

When comparing the data for individual countries, the reader should note that some countries report a much higher share of simple three-axis robots than other countries. They might also include equipment which, although formally satisfying the definition of industrial robots, is not included in other countries' statistics, e.g. automatic assembly on printed circuit boards.

Operational stock of robots continue to show steady increase, except in Japan . . .

In terms of units, it is estimated that the worldwide stock of operational industrial robots will increase from just over 720,000 units at the end of 1998 to 800,000 at the end of 2002 (see Table II). It is interesting that the operational stock of robots in Japan is projected to decrease from just over 410,000 units in 1998 to just under 370,000 units at the end of 2002. This implies that Japan's share of the worldwide stock of robots will fall from 57 per cent in 1998 to 46 per cent in 2002. The reason for this is, as was shown above, that the retirement of robots is higher than the new supply.

In the USA, the robot stock is forecast to reach 120,000 units in 2002. The projection for Germany is 104,000; Italy 47,000; France 20,000; and the UK 15,000 (see Table II).

In the aggregate of eight western European countries, the stock is projected to increase from 31,000 units to just under 50,000 units (see Table II). The combined stock of the operational robots of Australia, Republic of Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, Province of China, is projected to increase from 45,000 units to 54,000 units during the forecasting period.

Orders for robots in the first half of 1999 are skyrocketing in North America and Europe

In the first half of 1999, worldwide order intake surged by 36 per cent, compared with the same period in 1998. This figure, however, hides some major differences between regions. While order intake from Europe increased by 32 per cent, it skyrocketed by 90 per cent in North America. In Asia the market was flat.

Looking at order intake by industrial branches, there are also big differences in growth. Orders from the motor vehicle industry, excluding component manufacturing, surged by 101 per cent on a worldwide basis. In North America it skyrocketed by 214 per cent, compared with the same period in 1998. Order intake from component manufacturers to the motor vehicle industry and the aggregate of "all other industrial branches", on the other hand, each increased by just under 10 per cent in the first half of 1999, compared with the same period in 1998.

Relative prices of robots are falling and their profitability increasing . . .

Nominal prices of robots are following a falling trend. In addition, when taking into consideration significant improvements in performance, prices of robots relative to labour compensation have fallen even more sharply during the 1990s than nominal prices show. This implies that the profitability of existing robot installations is increasing, while at the same time more and more potential robot applications will satisfy sufficient profitability limits and hence be realized. As the relative prices of robots are projected to continue to fall, and a labour shortage in certain countries remains a possibility, the diffusion of robots might accelerate faster than projected. In the long run (ten to 15 years) of falling relative prices, labour shortages and quality aspects in production will be further reinforced as the driving forces behind continued high volumes of robotics investments. In the present and previous issues of World Robotics, case studies have given illustration to the above conclusions.

Worldwide diffusion of service robots

A service robot is a robot which operates semi or fully autonomously to perform services useful to the wellbeing of humans and equipment, excluding manufacturing operations.

With this definition, manipulating industrial robots could also be regarded as service robots, provided that they are installed in non-manufacturing operations. Service robots may or may not be equipped with an arm structure, as are industrial robots. Often, but not always, service robots are mobile. In some cases, service robots consist of a mobile platform on which one or several arms are attached and controlled in the same mode as the arms of the industrial robot. The different types of service robots are illustrated by photos.

There are many difficulties in collecting reliable statistics on service robots. However, based on a survey carried out by ECE and IFR, the total world stock of service robots at the end of 1998 can be estimated at a minimum of about 5,000 units (see Table III). When, for instance, cleaning robots and lawn mowing robots have reached such a level of cost-effectiveness that they can be affordable not only for professional use but also for households, where the degree of utilization can be counted in only a few hours per day, then the market for service robots could rapidly take off. Other important growth areas for service robots are household robots, robots for handicapped and disabled persons, and, above all, robots in the medical field used and designed for robot-assisted surgery.

In the period 1999-2002, it is projected that almost 24,000 service robots will be installed and possibly also as many as close to half a million vacuum cleaning robots (see Table III). The figures above do not take into account sales of low-end entertainment robots which might be estimated at several hundred thousand.

The present publication reviews in more detail the state-of-the-art applications listed in Table III.

Taking a longer-term perspective, say ten to 15 years from now, domestic service robots can very well have entered into a diffusion process similar to that which the PC, the mobile telephone or the Internet have had in recent years. In fact, the wide usage of the latter type of equipment greatly facilitates the introduction of service robots. Today or in the next few years almost all homes in western Europe will have PCs, mobile phones and Internet connections. The acceptability of "digital knowledge", or at least familiarity with it, in particular among young and middle-aged people, will smooth the transition of robots into our homes.

Increasingly, various types of tools and equipment in our homes (heating systems, fire and burglary alarm, stove, oven, refrigerators, etc.) will incorporate microcomputers and, above all, will be able to communicate with each other, by cable, electricity wiring or by infra-red or other wireless modes of communication. We will be able to control them remotely, using mobile phones as terminals. In this environment, domestic robots will serve as an important link between the various types of computer-controlled equipment and systems in our "wired" homes.

With the above-described complementary technology in place and with improved performance of domestic robots at a lower price (i.e. following a similar curve of price/performance ratio to other electronic goods), a potentially huge market is opening up. Modular designed robot platforms - to which various types of utilities, e.g. for vacuum and other types of cleaning, can be attached as well as articulated robot arms, various types of sensors and vision systems - could carry out a variety of tasks in our homes. They could vacuum clean, scrub floors, empty the dishwasher and place the china in the cupboards, lay the table, take out the garbage, open doors, guard the house against fire and intruders, mow the lawn, increase the mobility and security of old and disabled people, and much more. Increased functional flexibility will allow one robot system to free us from a number of routine jobs.

How much do we value our leisure time? It is reasonable to assume that it is a function of our hourly income, and the amount of leisure time left after having carried out professional work and necessary household tasks. If the time saved through using domestic robots is used for paid work, then it is easy to relate a value to the freed time and, from that, to attach an income to the domestic robots. For high income people there will thus be strong incentives to use domestic robots.

The publication World Robotics 1999 - Statistics, Market Analysis, Forecasts, Case Studies and Profitability of Robot Investment is available, quoting Sales No. GV.E.99.0.24 or ISBN No. 92-1-101007-1, through the usual United Nations sales agents in various countries or from the United Nations Office at Geneva, priced US$120, at Sales and Marketing Section, United Nations, Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland. Tel: (+41) 22 917 2606/2612/2613; Fax: (+41) 22 917 0027; E-mail: unpubli@unog.ch

For more information about the publication, please contact Mr Jan Karlsson, Statistical Division, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE), Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland. Tel: (+41) 22 917 3285; Fax: (+41) 22 917 0040; E-mail: jan.karlsson@unece.org

Alternatively, contact International Federation of Robotics (IFR), Box 5506, S-11485, Stockholm, Sweden. Tel: (+46) 8 782 0843; Fax: (+46) 8 660 3378; E-mail: ifr@vi.se