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Robots will continue to be Hot, Hot, Hot in 2016

By Bob Doyle, Director of Communications, The Association for Advancing Automation

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Bob Doyle, Director of Communications, The Association for Advancing Automation

They say that 2015 was the “Year of the Robot.” With all of the excitement, record robot sales, investment, and news about robotics in 2015, I’m sure it was. But I’m here to tell you that there is no slowing down and robots will continue to be hot in 2016.

“By all accounts, the growth potential for service robotics is huge, destined to eventually surpass its big brother, industrial robotics”

2015 saw record sales of industrial robots. End of year numbers are not complete yet as of this publishing date, but through the first 9 months our statistics showed a new record set with 22,427 robots ordered in North America with a value of $1.3 billion. This broke the previous record set in 2014 by 16 percent in units and 10 percent in dollars. “Demand for robots is at an all-time high, and companies of all sizes, in all sectors of the economy, are realizing the benefits of automation,” said Jeff Burnstein, President of RIA. “Robots are optimizing production more than ever, increasing global competitiveness, and performing dull, dirty and dangerous tasks that enable companies to create higher-skilled, better-paying, and safer jobs for their employees.” We expect these numbers to continue to rise in North America.

Global sales of robotics continue to skyrocket as well. According to the International Federation of Robotics, worldwide sales of robots increased 29 percent in 2014 to 229,261 units. This is the highest level ever recorded. The organization estimates an increase of at least 15 percent in 2015 to 264,000 units. And they expect double digit growth to continue through 2018. Between 2015 and 2018, it is estimated that about 1.3 million new industrial robots will be installed in factories around the world. Much of this growth can be attributed to China, where sales have quadrupled in the last five years. The IFR expects sales in China alone to total 150,000 units by 2018.

The hottest of the hot topics in the robotics industry is collaborative robots. Still in its infancy, the rapidly evolving domain of human-robot collaboration (HRC) has seen remarkable technological advancements in the last two years. No doubt, ambitious start-ups breeding new types of collaborative robots have excited the frenzy. And the “traditional” industrial robot companies are introducing collaborative robots at a breakneck pace as well. These collaborative robots make it possible to work side-by-side with humans, allowing for countless new applications in areas such as lab work to final assembly of all types of products.

2015 also saw the largest investment in robotics related companies. According to The Robot Report, there were 55 equity funding’s for a total of $1.3 billion; acquisitions totaling almost $2 billion, and $42 million in a single IPO. There were over 100 research reports published in 2015 covering the global robotics industry. Talk about a hot topic!

Let’s not forget about the growth in service robots. Robots are increasingly broadening our horizons beyond the factory floor. From robotic vacuums, bomb retrievers, exoskeletons and drones, to robots used in surgery, space exploration, agriculture and construction, service robots are building a formidable résumé. Yet the world of service robotics is still a largely untapped mine of possibilities.

By all accounts, the growth potential for service robotics is huge, destined to eventually surpass its big brother, industrial robotics. Many have likened this phenomenon to the proliferation of personal computers in the 1980s.

While there have been remarkable advances in the technologies enabling robots to augment our strengths and talents, there is still much work ahead. Experts agree that we have a long way to go before robots are omnipresent in our everyday lives.

This brings us to the continued rhetoric you often see in the media that “robots take jobs.” As the association that represents the industry, we wholeheartedly disagree.  Robotics and automation grows jobs in the U.S. In fact, we published a white paper entitled “Robots Fuel the Next Wave of U.S. Productivity and Job Growth” in which data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and a wide range of manufacturing firms document how and why increasing the use of robots is associated with increased employment.

Our key statistics show that during the non-recessionary periods – 1996-2000, 2002-2007, and 2010-2014 – general employment and robot shipments both increased. Since 2010, the robotics industry in the United States has grown substantially. Even during this period of record-breaking robot sales, U.S. employment increased. This new data is in stark contrast to media coverage and a perception that increasing use of robots causes higher rates of unemployment in the U.S.

Will 2016 be another “Year of the Robot?” You just wait and find out!

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