Regional President of the Greater China Area
Cobot use continues to increase in the world’s largest industrial robot market
For a decade, China has been the world’s largest industrial robot market and in 2022 the country accounted for half of all global robot installations. But despite being the world’s foremost user of robotics, China isn’t complacent. Robots continue to be pivotal in the country’s ongoing efforts to build a modern industrial system and to promote new industrialization – a task directly linked to the Chinese National Congress in 2022 making high-quality development a national priority. There are three key elements in the ongoing transformation of Chinese industrial manufacturing - scientific and technological innovation, nurturing talent, and green initiatives. Collaborative robots, have a part to play in all three.
One of the definitions of high-quality development proposed by the Chinese government is the continuous improvement of efficiency. And in the era of digitalization and intelligence, the improvement of productivity and efficiency is undoubtedly driven by automation. In the process of embracing automation, more and more companies in China have turned their attention to collaborative robots. Cobots are more flexible and simpler to use than traditional industrial robots, they are safe enough to work side by side with humans, and they can quickly be put into the production setup with very low deployment times. As a result, cobots are deployed across a wide range of industries in China, with electronics and new energy industries (solar panels, EV batteries etc.) being key segments – alongside the biggest segments globally, welding, palletizing and machine tending.
China has long been the most populous country in the world, but the country’s potential workforce is predicted to steadily decrease in the next decades with UN prospects predicting the country will lose 143 million workers from 2023 to 2043. Skill and labor shortages are already beginning to show, e.g. in the welding industry where demands for welders are increasing. Besides being a future driver for further automation in China, this trend also affects the educational system and the training of future workers in industrial manufacturing. Even though cobots are simple to deploy and use, and without a doubt will become even more intuitive in coming years as the technology develops, there is a great need to upskill the current workforce and make sure the future generations have the skills needed to operate and maintain the increasing fleet of robots.
In other words: the future labor shortage dilemma doesn’t only increase the need for cobots, it also increases the value of human talent.
As global warming continues to pose a serious threat to the global ecology, countries have tightened environmental protection policies, and the Chinese government has stressed that the goal of high-quality development cannot be at the expense of the environment and the green transition.
Here collaborative robots can contribute in several ways. By being able to repeatedly perform the same process with very high precision, cobots can help companies reduce waste and save resources. And with processes being repeated tens of thousands of times, even small reductions can end up making a big difference. At the same time, cobots need far less space than traditional industrial robots meaning manufacturers can produce in smaller buildings and thereby reduce heat and energy consumption. And finally, cobots’ low energy use makes them ideal for the new energy-efficient era of production. As an example, UR’s biggest cobot, the UR20, only use the same amount of power as the most efficient household washing machines.
Essentially, Chinese production is very much on track to being automized like in no other country on earth. And in all aspects of the Chinese journey – raising efficiency, solving labor challenges, and becoming more sustainable – cobots are and will continue to play a leading role.
Since 2017, the operational stock of industrial robots has been increasing by 13% on average each year. China’s operational stock of industrial robots, which had been growing impressively by 25% on average each year since 2017, exceeded the one-million-unit mark in 2021 and 1.5 million units in 2022, when it grew by another 22%.
Annual installations have been at record levels for three years in a row now: In 2022, annual installations of 290,258 units (+5%) replaced the previous record of 275,303 units in 2021.
Regional President of the Greater China Area