The demand for robots in manufacturing is predicted to increase nearly 11% to $20.2 billion by 2016. This growth rate is faster than the expected expansion in the global economy and overall manufacturing activity. In the US alone, the use of robots in manufacturing is expected to grow more than 15% in the next three years. In China, that figure is expected to be closer to 17%. Japan, Germany and South Korea also are predicted to show significant growth in the use of robots in manufacturing.
These statistics, compiled by the industry market research firm Freedonia Group , show rapid growth in robotics thanks to a number of key advances in robotic technology. These improvements include upgraded software, increased weight capacities, and improved dexterity. In the coming years, manufacturers will find new applications for robots as models that can perform more tasks enter the marketplace.
Are Robots Taking Over?
Such news brings to mind doomsday scenarios depicted in such films as The Terminator or The Matrix, where robots take over the planet and enslave humanity. Will there ever be a tipping point where robots can build themselves without any need for mankind? While this possibility may still be science fiction, Anand Mehta, author of the Freedonia study, recently told Modern Materials Handling that the dawn of the age of robots may be upon us. “The growth (in robotics technology) is fast, it’s fast everywhere, and it is in fact faster than almost all of the other product segments Freedonia researches,” Mehta said “The market is not mature, even in developed countries, so there is lots of potential.”
Two Categories of Robots
There are two basic types of robots being built today: Industrial robots and service robots. Industrial robots have been used since the 1970s in the assembly of motor vehicles, medical equipment and other industries. Service robots are a relatively new development, having been first introduced to the marketplace in the mid-2000s. Yet by 2016, the sale of service robots is expected to expand as lower costs, improved designs and applications make these types of robots more appealing to consumers. Medical robots, in particular, are expected to show substantial growth in the coming years. Currently, medical robots are used to perform heart surgery, crawl through the body carrying tiny cameras, and even help doctors detect disease.
For the materials handling industry, handling applications account for 40% of the industrial robots in demand, mostly for the conveying of products through the assembly process, especially in the automotive industry. Welding applications account for about 30%, according to the Freedonia report. Other robots are used in packaging, palletizing, picking, placing and in plastic molding.