Robotics & Automation News

Market trends and business perspectives

ABB doubling investment in China to see off challenge from Kuka and surpass Fanuc


ABB has a significant lead in the industrial robotics and automation market in China, but it seems somewhat wary of Kuka. 

The company recently decided it would double its investment in its research and development facility in China, and effectively make it the company’s global R&D HQ.

ABB currently employs 17,000 people in 139 cities in China. Its robotics division, though huge by itself, is just one part of the Swiss multinational engineering company.

Speaking to Bloomberg, ABB CEO Ulrish Spiesshofer says: “ABB is ahead of Kuka globally, we are ahead of Kuka here in the market and our ambition is to stay so.” 

The Chinese industrial robotics market is estimated to be worth around $11 billion, according to figures quoted by Bloomberg.


Data collated by the International Federation of Robotics suggests that China bought approximately 90,000 industrial robots last year, which is about one-third of total global sales.

The IFR figure is expected to rise to 160,000 in 2019.

With such opportunities on offer, ABB is not only looking to maintain its lead ahead of Kuka, it is also looking to challenge Fanuc.

At the moment, ABB is said to have the lead over Fanuc in China, but Fanuc is estimated to have the largest number of industrial robots installed worldwide, according to research by Robotics and Automation News , with more than 400,000.

ABB is estimated to have 300,000 installed worldwide, while Kuka is thought to have 80,000 installed.

However, Kuka is has been acquired by the household appliances giant Midea, a Chinese company.

It’s highly likely that there will be tens of thousands more Kuka robots manufactured over the next few years just to meet Midea’s production demands.

Last week, Kuka launched a logistics platform which will probably quickly find its way into the intralogistics operations of Midea.

But Midea is not the only company Kuka could target, as it looks like the company will operate as an autonomous robotics and automation company within the Midea group.

This is different to what happened when Amazon bought Kiva Systems.

The autonomous mobile platform for logistics that Kiva built was originally available for any company to buy.

When Amazon took over, Kiva logistics robots were no longer sold to anyone else – probably because the online retail giant needs so many of the machines for its own operations.

Amazon is said to be using more than 100,000 of the Kiva logistics robots in its warehouses worldwide.

ABB’s main business is large infrastructure projects, such as power stations. And its ABB Ability internet of things platform is also growing strong.

But it is also currently looking at a variety of opportunities in China and around the world in newly emerging markets such as electric cars, autonomous vehicles and smart home devices.

Recently it partnered with Amazon and Sonos to make its ABB Ability smart home system more widely available.

ABB claims to be the leader in the German home automation market, but is probably not well known as a supplier of such technology outside Europe.

Its system enables users to control up to 65 functions including lighting, blinds, security and heating with the ABB-free@home through a control panel, via tablet or smart phone, and remotely.

ABB says Amazon Alexa and Sonos solutions are now integrated within the same open home automation platform as a result of the partnership.

ABB is also looking to expand its robot production capacity in the US, as well as grow the overall business through acquisitions, according to Reuters.