The push of Industry 4.0, which connects physical factory and virtual reality, does not seem to run out. This is confirmed by the forecasts of the IFR (International Federation of Robotics), according to which about 1.7 million new robots will enter factories around the world by 2020, and by the share of 7,289 robots ordered in Italy in 2017. The latter is a proof of how healthy is one of the most strategic sectors as for the Smart Manufacturing in Italy and indicates an increase of about 20% compared to the previous year.
di Fabrizio Garnero
This is the picture that emerged from the meeting of SIRI Statistics Working Group (GdLS is the Italian acronym) which, with the contribution of UCIMU – Sistemi per produrre Research Centre, monitors the robotics trend in our country. Germany, the fifth largest robot market in the world, is the largest one in Europe, according to the World Robotics Report 2017 by the IFR. However, Italy has quite a good position too. In fact, considering the peculiarities of the Italian industrial fabric, the figure of almost 8,000 robots sold last year is certainly an excellent and unprecedented result. It is also important to notice that the 7,289 robots indicated by the GdLS are an estimate of the units ordered in Italy in 2017, not the number of installed machines. In fact, although it is increasingly clear that even Italian SMEs are moving towards automated production, it is also true that the figure is certainly influenced by the excellent work of Italian integrators, perhaps the best in the world, which due to their problem-solving skills are capable to create robotic cells often addressed to foreign production sites. The robots are therefore sold in Italy but installed often abroad. The data released by SIRI then indicate the number of robots ordered in our country, but not the newly installed ones.
Two-digit growth also in 2018
Back to the numbers, the 7,289 robots ordered on the Italian market are divided as follows: 6,169 six-axis robots, 760 Scara robots and the remaining ones divided between parallel kinematics robots and the innovative collaborative robots, or cobots. These are the values collected to date and referred to a significant sample of the main players taking part in the SIRI Statistics Working Group. As mentioned above, the actual number of Italian robots is indeed higher than 8,000 and points straight to 9,000 units. However, this is an unofficial figure that emerged from the debate opened within the Group. The official result (7,289 robots) is affected by two main factors: the fact that a couple of important players do not belong to the GdLS and the veto by the two major parent companies to provide data on the sales of cobots in Italy. Also in the light of these considerations, the figure of 7,289 robots sold in Italy in just one year is quite a significant achievement anyway.
“This is an excellent result – said Domenico Appendino, President of SIRI – which comes not only from a general growth of robotics in the world, but also from the incentives related to Industry 4.0, of which robots are a key element. The figure is positive not only for the increase in the specific industrial sector, but also for the growth of human jobs which are indeed generated by the integration of robots within the production processes. In fact, the jobs lost because of the robots are largely balanced by the new jobs coming from the greater competitiveness and productivity of companies”.
The words of SIRI President confirm the widespread optimism among the operators, who foresee a growth also in the current year. “The forecasts of a double-digit growth in 2018, which would lead to more than 8,000 robots sold, is more than a hope because, unless unpredictable events occur, it is a widespread belief among most of the players”.
General Industry attracts six-axis robots in Italy
Now let’s go into the numbers in order to carefully analyze the data. Let’s start from six-axis robots that are largely widespread in our market, with 6,169 units sold (+20.1% over the previous year). There are 1,533 robots ordered directly to manufacturers (+11.2%) and 4,636 those marketed through third parties (+23.3%), a figure that once again proves the excellent work of Italian integrators, the actual protagonists of the revamp of robotics in several industrial sectors. Another interesting trend comes from the General Industry, which features the largest number of robots purchased: 1,028 (+19.4%) those directly purchased from manufacturers and 4,203 (+24, 2%) those bought through third parties. Such an excellent result is balanced by the not so positive trend in the automotive industry. In fact, the lack of large projects (which typically raises the data upwards) makes it definitely suffering, with a -25,3% of robots ordered to manufacturers addressed to automotive and only +2.1% – equal to 443 machines compared to the 434 of the previous year – for subcontractors of Tier1 and Tier2. The percentage of the automotive sector involving third parties in robot trade was slightly better, with 433 machines sold (+14.9% compared to the previous year). More in detail, therefore speaking of applications, in a quite positive framework the decrease of Arc Welding stands out (-13.2%, with 376 machines compared to the previous 433). This confirms the considerations made above for the car sector, in which only Spot Welding has recorded a positive sign, with 152 robots purchased (+29.9%).
Scara robots and the world of robotic assembly
Let’s now analyze in detail the trend of the second most important market segment, namely that of Scara robots. We have positive numbers also in this sector, even if the regret for the lack of adhesion to the survey of some relevant local distributor increases. The figures could be indeed even better. A share of 760 Scara robots have been ordered in Italy in 2017 (+27.9% over the previous year). It is quite positive also because the aforementioned lack is not something new, so the sample involved in the survey is still a truthful indicator of the segment trends.
In the case of the Scara robots, unlike the six-axis ones, the trends of direct sales from the manufacturer or distributor and those from third parties are quite similar, with 375 machines in the first case and 385 robots in the second. However, if we read these figure in terms of percentage compared to the previous year, the values are quite different, with +8.1% in the case of the machines sold directly and +55.9% in the case of Scara robots sold by third parties. This is once again a proof of the excellent work done by Italian integrators, a true heritage of made-in-Italy robotics.As for applications, assembly processes are largely the main ones. In fact, this type of robots are the most suitable ones by their nature and technical features. A share of 474 Scara units were sold for industrial assembly, 124 more than last year (+35.4%). Material Handling is the second most relevant application. Here, the increase was 25% with a total of 285 units ordered. Out of curiosity, only one Scara robot was sold to be employed in a foundry use.