The industrial robot market in China is surging: penetration of robots increased sharply in China in 2010, reaching 52,290 installed units. In 2011, the sales volume of new industrial robots increased by 51% year on year to around 22,600 units, the highest growth rate in the world. It is expected that by 2014 China will need 32,000 units of industrial robots, becoming the world’s largest market for robots.
Industrial robots are widely applied in the manufacturing of automobile parts, electrical and electronic appliances, chemicals, machinery and metal processing, of which half are used in the manufacturing of auto parts, electrical and electronic appliances.
Changes underway in China’s enormous manufacturing sector are driving demand for robots. Disappearance of surplus labor and the resulting rise in labor costs is one factor. However, the expansion of higher-value manufactured goods and the evolution of the lower-end market are also creating an impetus for reform through greater efficiency and quality.
Industrial robots are acting as a catalyst of this transformation. With the upgrading of China’s factories and further competitive pressure on its manufacturing industry, the need for robotic technology has dramatically increased. While much of the supply of robots has been imports to date, the domestic industrial robot industry has set 300 billion Yuan as its annual goal, a significant increase in share.
The technical level of Chinese industrial robots is improving. In robot control research and development, China has developed dual-processor, multi-processor and hierarchical control units. In industrial robot type research and development, China has been able to independently design and produce spot welding robots, arc welding robots, painting robots and assembling robots. Exploration of an automated guided vehicle has been quite successful, some of which has been exported to overseas markets.
Industrial robots have increased production efficiency
Inside a new plant in Chongqing, 9 workstations of a welding line are configured with 11 welding robots. The arms of more than2m-tall yellow robots are moving up and down, sending out arc lights and sparks during welding. Automated guide vehicles move back and forth along the fixed lines around these robots, transporting motorcycle frames and production materials for the welding robots.
This is the first robot production line in the domestic motorcycle industry. Its automation rate reached 90%, its production efficiency rose by 42.8% and the rate of qualified products increased from 70% to 97% while employment has been cut from the previous 11,660 to 7,906.
This is an example of the kind of improvement that will become commonplace in Chinese industry.
Enterprises are optimistic about Robots
As the Chinese labor market evolves from a surplus to one in which employees are harder to find, cost more, and require greater management attention, many enterprises have begun to consider applying industrial robots to replace laborers. Robots can clearly mitigate labor cost, but equally important is their ability to increase production volume while reducing defective product output; moreover, they can readily implement higher-risk tasks. All these factors are driving demand for robots.
The International Federation of Robotics has predicted that China will become the world’s largest industrial robot market in 2014. There are both challenges and opportunities in this expansion: while the robot market in China has been dominated by international industrial robot giants, with less than 10% held by the domestic brands, there is clearly an immense opportunity for Chinese robot manufacturers if they can improve quality and performance to world standards.