Industrial robots have come a long way since George Devol invented “Unimate” in 1961.
After pitching his idea to Joseph Engelberger at a cocktail party, the two soon saw their new creation become the first mass-produced robotic arm to be used in factory automation.
Today, as Visual Capitalists’s Ang Ahlstrom notes, this robot class is raising the bar of global manufacturing to new heights, striking a seamless mix of strength, speed, and precision. As a result, demand for industrial robots keeps growing at a robust 14% per year, setting the stage for 3.1 million industrial robots in operation globally by 2020.
DRIVERS OF ROBOT SUCCESS
Why are industrial robots flying off the shelves at an unprecedented rate?
Significant factors include advancements in machine learning and computer vision, since the prospect of new functionality leads to more use cases and increased demand. In addition, the maturation of 3D printing technology and the soaring interest in collaborative robots also deserve some of the credit.
What’s interesting though, is that according to experts, the record demand for robots is actually largely in response to the notable decline in unit costs.
ARK Investment Management, a leading researcher in this market, says that industrial robot costs are expected to drop a solid 65% between 2015 and 2025. Impressively, the cost per robot will plunge from $31,000 to $11,000 over that decade of time.
A SUDDEN COST DECLINE
Why are unit costs dropping so fast?
For ARK, such price shifts account for the workings of Wright’s Law, which states: “for every cumulative doubling in number of units produced, costs will decline by a consistent percentage”. In the field of robotics that cost decline, also known as the “learning rate”, has been around 50%.
As industrial robotic operations grow, especially in the automotive industry, the manufacturing sector continues to save millions. Meanwhile, working conditions improve as robots take mundane, repetitive, and dangerous task loads from human workers.
At present, the largest market share of industrial robots is held in the Asia-Pacific region – namely,