Industrial robots are playing increasingly important roles in boosting operational flexibility for large scale manufacturing facility operators.
The adoption of automation processes around the world has been accelerating strongly in recent years. Significant improvements in terms of productivity have resulted in increased interest for industrial robots as a replacement for low-skilled workers. According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the average global robot density is more than 70 units for every 10,000 human workers. Europe, however, leads the industry with an average of more than 100 units/10,000 workers.
Robotics is a relatively new field of technology which is increasingly influencing applications in residential and commercial settings. Developer efforts towards higher efficiency and safety levels has resulted in superior services. Advances in artificial intelligence and industrial internet of things are setting the stage for widening applications to autonomous devices.
Industrial robots are playing increasingly important roles in boosting operational flexibility for large scale manufacturing facility operators. The use of robots has also become crucial for European manufacturers to maintain an adequate level of competitiveness in the global market. This can be largely attributed to high labor costs, strict workplace laws, and stringent standards associated with the production of end products. Industrial robot manufacturers are finding new opportunities in small and medium scale enterprises.
Leading countries in European industrial robotics
According to IFR data, Germany is a pioneering country in industrial automation. Driven largely by the country’s automotive sector, and ranking third on the global scale, the country accounts for more than 300 units per 10,000 workers. Germany also accounts for more than 35% of the European supply and stock of industrial robots.
Following Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, and Italy have emerged as major markets with averages of more than 210, 220, 160, and 180 units, respectively. Government incentives play major roles in the applications of industrial robots in the region. Eastern European countries have also displayed strong growth in the sector, with Slovakia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic emerging as major winners, with demand largely driven by demand from the automotive sector.
The UK despite being a major economic power within Europe, has been slow in taking up industrial robots. Lack of adequate investments aimed towards modernization has been a major area of concern. While there is significant potential for growth in the automotive sector from capacity expansions, uncertainties in terms of customs following Brexit are expected to hold back investments for the country in the short term.
Covid-19 impact on industrial robots
While the covid-19 pandemic continues to hurt global economies, the complete impact of the crisis has not been assessed for European industries. Industrial robot suppliers are pushing to make faster adjustments to demand for new applications and solutions. While China is displaying faster recovery, European players will remain impacted by the slump in large scale orders through 2020 and a part of 2021 as well.
Strict lockdown and social distancing guidelines have hurt industrial productivity and set up a favorable environment for the adoption of industrial robots through 2021 and beyond. While automation projects will aid recovery, IFR has estimated up to 2023 for the sector reach pre-pandemic levels.
Growing applications in smart factories
The European automotive industry has been a key factor providing impetus to the adoption of smart factory solutions in the region. Innovations involving interactions between autonomous guided vehicles and production robots are gaining ground.
Mobile industrial robots are finding increased consumer interest owing to frequent innovations in navigation technology, allowing improvements to human-robot interactions and providing unprecedented advances to the flexibility of production line operations in plastic, food & beverage, and textile industries.
Robots and employment in Europe
On the whole, the use of industrial robots has been positively associated with employment rates in Europe. According to the Center for Economic Policy Research, the adoption of industrial robots will not adversely affect employment in the near future, even in cases of low-skilled workers. This can be broadly attributed to the fact that industrial robots bolster industrial growth, supporting manpower requirement statistics, despite being a labor-saving technology.
Also, investments into industrial robots directly influence investment into employment owing to factors such as capacity and competitiveness in industrial operations. Also, industrial robots are not designed to replace entire jobs, but only certain tasks. While this may lead to structural changes in employment, the increased scope for labor productivity will also support employment.
On the other hand, these trends are unlikely to remain constant for the foreseeable future. While older robots are unlikely to affect low-skill employment, advances in artificial intelligence and wide-scale deployment could potentially take over conventional labor requirements. With high potential in the field of manufacturing, disruption through automation is very likely. Also, the use of industrial robots outside of the manufacturing sector currently has limited economic implications.
So far, there has been no clear evidence implicating industrial robots in the destruction of jobs, affecting low skilled laborers. This will have significant impact on policy changes. Currently, issues such as labor market deregulation, rising levels of wage inequality, lack of public spending, and poor conditions in collective bargaining structures are drawing attention away from robotics.
The negative focus on robots and its effects on public sentiments and confidence are likely to be concerns in the short term, even as taxes are not a certain solution as associated with the overall level of manufacturing productivity within Europe.
In a globally competitive industry, European manufacturers are forced to compete against economies with low wage standards, and other developed countries with high level of adoption for automation. In coming years, the rising use of robotics around the globe will also influence adoption trends within Europe. Efforts towards sustainability, competitive operations, and productivity will prove important as differentiation factors between manufacturing industry participants.
Players across the region will need to take collective action to keep up with advances in science and other societal issues. Open borders and ease of trade are regional advantages available to industrial robot manufacturers and distributors, by building effective supply chains for reduced cost in products and services.
This article was originally published on EE Times Europe.