The Chinese government may be encouraging domestic companies to develop more advanced technologies, but for now, the country’s manufacturers are turning to established industrial robot manufacturers abroad.
Japan, being one of the leading industrial robot manufacturing nations in the world, is expecting a 10 per cent increase in orders over the course of this year, according to figures released by the Japan Robot Association.
Jara’s latest data covers the period from October to December 2017, and show that the country’s industrial robot makers produced a total of 53,918 units, valued at about $1.7 billion.
The previous year’s figures for the same quarter were 40,139 unit sales and approximately $1.3 billion.
That works out to a percentage increase of about 31 per cent for the quarter at the end of 2017 when compared with the quarter at the end of 2016.
Note: The above pie chart shows a high-level view of industrial robot sales by application, using data from Jara. Details, such as the type of welding, for example, are excluded for simplicity.
Japan’s healthy increase in industrial robot sales is said by Nikkei, the financial news website, to be largely due to ever-increasing demand from China.
China is currently the world’s biggest importer of industrial robots, and it seems likely to remain so over the next year or two at least, until perhaps domestic robot production starts to make a significant impact on the numbers.
But, of course, China is not the only country that buys industrial robots, and Japan may see a significant demand from Europe and North America as the economies there grow and the governments introduce measures to strengthen their manufacturing bases.
In fact, the vast majority of industrial robots Japan produces seem to be going to customers outside the country, with shipments to the US, in particular, staying strong.
Jara calculates total exports of industrial robots from Japan to be 42,263 units, with a total dollar value of about $1.3 billion in the last quarter of 2017.
In the same quarter, domestic shipments were said to number 10,429 units, valued at $460 million.
So, Japanese industrial robot makers appear to export three times as many units as they supply to domestic customers.
Looking at the final quarter of 2016, the ratio is almost the same: 32,792 units exported at a value of almost $1 billion.
In percentage terms, that’s an increase in exports in the final quarter of 2017 of around 30 per cent, compared with the same quarter in 2016, obviously.
Jara is more precise, calculating the increase in exports to be 28.9 per cent.
Domestic shipments in the final quarter of 2016 were said to be 8,565 units, valued at $359 million – a year-on-year increase of 21.8 per cent, says Jara.
Total unit shipments for October to December increased in 2017 by 34.3 per cent, and revenue increased by 30.5 per cent, says Jara.
In terms of the types of robots the market is demanding, Jara reports that the biggest increase was seen in the category of painting robots.
In the period from October to December 2017, almost 60 per cent more robots in the painting category were sold, although the actual number of units were relatively small: 78 units shipped to domestic customers, and 524 exported – 602 in total.
The category with the largest number of industrial robots sold in the final quarter of 2017 was material handling, with 15,755 units sold in total – 13,569 exported, and 2,186 sold locally.
The percentage growth in demand for material handling robots for the final quarter of 2017 compared with the same quarter last year was 19.4 per cent.
Although big names like Fanuc and Yaskawa Motoman are shipping large numbers of robots to the US, it is the Chinese market everyone is watching, not least because of the country’s increasing capacity of production of the robots themselves, and because it’s much closer geographically.