Sales of industrial robots reached a new peak level of about 150,000 units last year, according to recent estimates from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). This is an increase of about 30% over 2010, which already had seen considerable recovery following 2009's downturn.
In 2010, the automotive industry was the main driver of the strong growth. Last year, however, robot suppliers reported a significant demand increase from other industrial sectors.
"Thanks to the demand of emerging countries, including China, the sales of factory automation apparatus are increasing," said Shinsuke Sakakibara, IFR's president. "However, the growth of sales of machine tools seems to be slowing down under the influence of Europe's currency crisis and/or a Chinese tight-money policy. But this does not apply to robots."
Although robot manufacturers expected continued improvement in 2011, the 30% growth exceeded expectations, according to Arturo Baroncelli, IFR's vice president, and robotics proposal manager at Comau.
Robot suppliers throughout industry noted the same trends in their own businesses, each pointing to record sales in 2011, particularly in their Asian markets. "Growth in the automotive sector continued unabated and was strongly supported by an increased uptake in growth segments such as electronics, solar, and food and beverage," said Per Vegard Nerseth, head of ABB Robotics. "We fully expect this growth to continue through 2012 with the increased demand throughout the Asia region continuing to be an important factor."