China to have most robots in the world by 2017
Already the biggest market in the $9.5 billion global robot trade, or $29 billion including associated software, peripherals and systems engineering, China lags far behind its more industrialised peers in terms of robot density.
China has just 30 robots per 10,000 workers employed in manufacturing industries, compared with 437 in South Korea, 323 in Japan, 282 in Germany and 152 in the United States.
But a race by carmakers to build plants in China along with wage inflation that has eroded the competitiveness of Chinese labour will push the operational stock of industrial robots to more than double to 428,000 by 2017, the IFR estimates.
Japanese robot makers still have the lion's share of the market, with about 60 percent, but Chinese suppliers are growing fast, with about a quarter of the market. Most of the rest are supplied by European and US manufacturers.
Four foreign robot makers, Switzerland's ABB, Germany's Kuka, and Japan's Yaskawa and Fanuc, already have production sites in China and more are expected to follow.
The automotive industry is by far the largest customer for robots in China, accounting for about 40 percent of robots in operation, as China is both the world's biggest car market and its biggest production site.
European carmakers such as Volkswagen and Daimler which have invested heavily in China are bringing their robotics suppliers with them, Litzenberger said. ■