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Robot makers gear up for fast growth

2013-11-06 10:54 China Daily Web Editor: qindexing
  Visitors have fun with a robot Robocoaster from Germany at China International Industry Fair in Shanghai, on Nov 5, 2013. [Photo/China Daily]

Visitors have fun with a robot "Robocoaster" from Germany at China International Industry Fair in Shanghai, on Nov 5, 2013. [Photo/China Daily]

China will be the world's largest robotics market by 2015, as urbanization and industrial upgrading drive demand for smart manufacturing and automation, according to the International Federation of Robotics.

The IFR has forecast that the nation's market for industrial robots will reach 35,000 units in 2015, accounting for 16.9 percent of the global total.

Over the next two years, revenue in the robotics market may reach 1 trillion yuan ($161 billion) in China, the organization forecast.

The math is simple: the average wage in the manufacturing industry has been increasing by 10 to 20 percent annually, while the price of robots has been dropping about 4 percent every year.

"Robot sales are expected to grow by at least 15 percent this year," said Gu Chunyuan, head of the discrete automation and motion division for North Asia and China at Switzerland-based ABB Ltd.

"The demand for robots has surged in each of the past three years, and the momentum will continue in the next few years."

China's industrial robotics market started to boom in 2010, as the sales rose by 1.71 times from 2009, taking the nation's robot "population" to 52,290 units.

The robust sales continued in 2011, with year-on-year growth of 51 percent, still the fastest in the world, representing deliveries of 22,600 units. In 2012, sales stood at 23,000 units.

"Increasing labor costs and the appeal of 'smart manufacturing', which features high efficiency, high quality and high levels of safety, have helped boost the demand for robots," said Gu.

Wang Feiyue, an official at the State Key Laboratory of Management and Control for Complex Systems, which is under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that there is huge potential in the Chinese robot market because of labor shortages.

Wang said that the mass application of robots might also move China's manufacturing industry up the value ladder.

According to Wang, the application rate of robots in China is still very low compared with developed countries, such as Japan, the United States and Germany.

"In Japan, every 10,000 employees work with more than 300 robots. However, in China, the number is just 10," said Wang.

In July, Wang Mingwei, the deputy director of the equipment department at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said that the government would soon release guidelines for the development of the robotics industry.

ABB, a leading power and automation technology group, was the first international player to tap the potential of China's robotics market, moving the global headquarters of its robot business from Detroit to Shanghai in 2006.

ABB is the only manufacturer with a fully localized value chain in China for industrial robots, including research and development, production, sales, engineering and services.

It said that its robotics sales in China have grown faster than the sector as a whole, and it has a "dominant" market share.

"China is now at the critical stage of evolving from traditional to smart manufacturing. Advanced manufacturing and production techniques are necessary for a healthy manufacturing industry," said Gu.

"Providing leading innovative technologies and solutions for smart manufacturing, including the latest industrial robots, will support customers in achieving an intelligent upgrading."

Gu added that robots' role isn't limited to such traditional activities as vehicle production, where companies follow flexible manufacturing procedures that turn out different models on the same production line.

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