UN survey predicts robot sales growth

By JOHN ZAROCOSTAS, UPI Science News  |  Oct. 3, 2002 at 11:30 PM
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GENEVA, Switzerland, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- Global sales of industrial robots are projected to bounce back after last year's sharp 17 percent fall and increase by an annual average of 7.5 percent, reaching an estimated 104,400 new installations by 2005, a global industry survey published Thursday predicts.

The report also forecast sales for service robots for professional use to increase from 12,400 units in 2002 to 25,500 installations in 2005, with medical robots and surveillance and security robots leading the growth stakes.

New installations of medical robots, said the study, "World Robotics 2002," are expected to reach 6,050 units in 2005, up from 1,840 in 2002, while security and surveillance robots are anticipated to reach 1,830 units, up from 70 in 2002.

Jan Karlsson, lead author of the survey compiled by the U.N. Economic Commission and the International Federation of Robotics, said sales in the European Union last year expanded overall by 2.5 percent and orders in the first half of 2002 picked up by 2 percent in North America.

The outlook for Japan, however, the world's largest robotics market, Karlsson said, remains far from rosy.

In 2001, sales in Japan fell by nearly 40 percent to 28,400 units, the lowest since the 1980s, the survey said. It also highlighted Japan's robot stock, which started to decline at an accelerated pace in 1998. Last year, it fell by 7.2 percent to 361,234 units, down from 412,961 units in 1997.

"The Japanese are re-thinking their automation strategies," Karlsson told UPI. He said the slump in Japan was due to a combination of factors including the sick state of the economy, over-investments in robotics in the 1980s, and the fact that many of their industrial operations have gone offshore.

The study's conclusions are upbeat about the outlook for robotics in the United States, the European Union and new emerging markets such as Brazil and China. U.S. robot sales are forecast to reach 14,200 in 2005, up from last year's 10,800 units.

Christian Frenes, a technology analyst with the investment bank, J.P. Morgan of London, told UPI he expects U.S. demand for robots to be driven by new Japanese or European auto transplants and a shift by manufacturers to more flexible methods to enable them to produce more than one model from the same assembly line.

"You need advanced robots" to produce two or threee models off one assembly line, the analyst said.

The report noted the United States lags behind in robot density with only 700 per 10,000 industrial workers in the auto sector compared with 1,600 in Japan, 980 in Italy and 890 in Germany. However, it also shows the United States led in purchases of advanced robots -- those with 5 axes of movement or more -- which accounted for 94 percent of all new U.S. installations.

Overall, the United States lagged in robot density for all industrial sectors with 52 per 10,000 manufacturing workers, compared with 272 in Japan, 125 in Korea, 127 in Germany and an average of 81 for the whole European Union.

Regarding robot prices, which according to the study, in the last decade declined by about 43 percent, Frenes said he expects prices at some point "to stabilize."

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