The prediction comes from the International Federation of Robotics, which expects the number of industrial robots in North America to rise from about 237,000 at present to 292,000 by 2017. The IFR predicts that Europe's five biggest economies will have 340,000 robots by 2017 – up from 311,000 at present.
China is already the world's largest market for industrial robots.
“The automation of China's production plants has just started,” says Per Vegard Nerseth, managing director of ABB Robotics. “As the first foreign robot manufacturer to arrive here, we have observed the market and developments for years now. We have witnessed swift – almost explosive – growth over the last two or three years, surpassing even our expectations.”
Kuka and two Japanese robot manufacturers now also have production sites in China. About 80% of China’s industrial robots are currently made by foreign manufacturers, and others are planning to set up production lines in China.
At present, China only has only 30 industrial robots per 10,000 people employed in manufacturing. Germany's robotic density is ten times higher, and in Japan it is 11 times more. North America’s robotic density is five times higher than in China.
Most of China’s industrial robots are used for handling applications (40%) and welding (36%). The automotive industry is by far the biggest user, accounting for around 40% of sales.
The Chinese government is pushing forward with robotic research, often in partnership with foreign robot manufacturers.
According to IFR, local Chinese robot manufacturers have so far focused on customers who are “satisfied with average quality and unsophisticated technology”. Their sales have more than tripled since 2012.