BOFIT Viikkokatsaus / BOFIT Weekly 2017/40

Data published by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) at the end of September show that China has surpassed Japan for the top global spot in terms of numbers of industrial robots in service. At the end of 2016, China had 340,000 robots, or nearly a fifth of the world's industrial robots in use.

China has been the world's largest market for new industrial robots since 2013. Last year saw the sale of 87,000 robots, or 30 % of global industrial robot sales. Robot sales increased in China by 27 % y-o-y last year, while robot sales rose by 16 % globally. China's industrial robot market is roughly the same size as that of Europe and North America combined. As a result of extremely rapid automatisation, the electronics industry now rivals the automobile industry in terms of robot purchase, both globally and in China.

China's position for the industrial robot market will only increase in coming years, since China still lags well behind the leading countries (South Korea, Singapore, Germany and Japan) in terms using robots to augment labour. The IFR reports that China's manufacturers are experiencing a rapid shift in terms of the number of robots used per 10,000 workers. For China, that number is only 68 at the moment, compared 631 in Korea and over 300 in Germany and Japan. Use of robots in the car industry everywhere is significantly more extensive than in any other major industrial branch.

Notably, China's significance also is increasing as it develops its own robot production capability. About a third of the robots purchased last year by China's electronics industry came from Chinese robot-makers. China's car industry, in contrast, only bought 13 % of its robots from domestic producers. Chinese firms have ambitions to increase their technical sophistication and market share, which is reflected in acquisitions of foreign robot manufacturers.

China, South Korea, Japan, the US and Germany account for 74 % of the global market for industrial robots. The IFR estimates that global sales of industrial robots will grow at least 18 % this year and by about 15 % a year in 2018–2020.