FRANKFURT Feb 5 China will have more robots
operating in its production plants by 2017 than any other
country as it cranks up automation of its car and electronics
factories, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) said
Already the biggest market in the $9.5 billion global robot
trade -- or $29 billion including associated software,
peripherals and systems engineering -- China lags far behind its
more industrialised peers in terms of robot density.
China has just 30 robots per 10,000 workers employed in
manufacturing industries, compared with 437 in South Korea, 323
in Japan, 282 in Germany and 152 in the United States.
But a race by carmakers to build plants in China along with
wage inflation that has eroded the competitiveness of Chinese
labour will push the operational stock of industrial robots to
more than double to 428,000 by 2017, the IFR estimates.
"Companies are forced to invest ever more in robots to be
more productive and raise quality," said Gudrun Litzenberger,
general secretary of the Frankfurt-based IFR.
"In the current phase it's the auto industry, but in the
next two or three years it will be driven by the electronics
industry," she said.
Japanese robot makers still have the lion's share of the
market, with about 60 percent, but Chinese suppliers are growing
fast, with about a quarter of the market. Most of the rest are
supplied by European and U.S. manufacturers.
Four foreign robot makers -- Switzerland's ABB,
Germany's Kuka, and Japan's Yaskawa and Fanuc
-- already have production sites in China and more are
expected to follow.
"The automation of China's production plants has just
started," said Per Vegard Nerseth, Managing Director of ABB
Robotics. "We have witnessed swift, almost explosive growth over
the last two or three years, surpassing even our expectations."
The automotive industry is by far the largest customer for
robots in China, accounting for about 40 percent of robots in
operation, as China is both the world's biggest car market and
its biggest production site.
European carmakers such as Volkswagen and
Daimler which have invested heavily in China are
bringing their robotics suppliers with them, Litzenberger said.
The electronics industry is expected to follow.
Taiwanese contract manufacturing giant Foxconn,
which makes Apple iPhones and iPads among other
products, is already making its own Foxbot robots as well as
using robots bought from other suppliers.
(Editing by Mark Potter)