China robot sales to almost triple by 2018: industry group

A Baxter robot of Rethink Robotics picks up a business card as it performs during a display at the World Economic Forum (WEF), in China's port city Dalian, Liaoning province, China, September 9, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Lee

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Sales of robots in China are set to almost triple by 2018, defying a slowdown in the wider economy, the International Federation of Robotics said on Friday.

China is trying to modernize its industrial production and has identified robotics as a major area for growth amid labor shortages and fast-rising wages.

The world’s second-largest economy still has far lower robot penetration than other big industrialized economies - just 36 per 10,000 manufacturing workers versus 478 in South Korea, 315 in Japan, 292 in Germany and 164 in the United States.

Frankfurt-based IFR said in a statement that annual robot sales to China would jump to 150,000 by 2018, up from 57,000 in 2014.

“The robotics industry is exhibiting rapid growth – completely unperturbed by the current economic fallow period experienced by other areas of Chinese industry,” China Robot Industry Alliance Secretary General Song Xiaogang said in IFR’s statement.

China’s robot market is still dominated by foreign players like ABB, Kuka and Yaskawa but China is encouraging its own robot makers with subsidies and the number of Chinese robotics firms is growing fast.

Few of them have their own technology and struggle to compete on price alone, but in the long run the domestic robot industry is expected to become a leading force.

Reporting by Georgina Prodhan. Editing by Jane Merriman