International Federation of Robotics (IFR) recently released a study showing that about 1 million robots worked in the automotive industry across the globe in 2021, or roughly a third of robots installed across all industries.
The study, published on March 22, said the automotive industry has the largest number of robots working in factories around the world, with operational stock hitting a world record of 1 million units in 2021.
Robot density is also the highest in the auto sector, the study found. This key gauge of a country’s or an industry’s level of automation is measured by dividing the number of robots installed by 10,000 employees.
According to a press release by IFR, South Korea had 2,867 industrial robots per 10,000 employees in 2021. Germany ranks second with 1,500 units in operation, followed by the United States counting 1,457 units and Japan 1,422 units per 10,000 workers.
The world’s biggest car producer and consumer China came in fifth, after Japan, with a robot density of 772 units in 2021 — way ahead of the 322 units in the overall manufacturing industry.
The nation is catching up fast, though. Within a year, new robot installations in the Chinese automotive industry almost doubled to 61,598 units, accounting for 52% of the total 119,405 units installed in factories around the world, according to IFR.
Automaking traditionally consists of four procedures, namely stamping, welding, painting and assembly, which are now increasingly automated thanks to heavier use of robotics.
The spike in China’s robot density owes itself to fast expansion of the new energy vehicle industry. Data show that in 2022, China produced and sold 7.058 million and 6.887 million NEVs, a jump of 96.9% and 93.4% year on year. NEVs now represent 25.6% of the overall car market, 12.1 pcts higher than the previous year.
In February 2022, NEV production and sales totalled 552,000 and 525,000 units, up 48.8% and 55.9% over the previous year. NEV now has a 26.6% market share.
Driven by the NEV boom at home, industrial automation equipment and robot have flourished, riding the waves of huge demand for “lights-out factories” staffed by robots instead of human workers.
For instance, at such a car factory owned by SAIC-GM, a joint venture, a new car rolls off the production line every 76 seconds, as a result of seamless collaboration between different types of industrial robots.
The robots autonomously pick up the car parts belonging to different models, load them onto the production line and assemble the cars, as part of a flexible working mode.
“The automotive industry effectively invented automated manufacturing,” says Marina Bill, President of the IFR. “Today, robots are playing a vital role in enabling this industry’s transition from combustion engines to electric power. Robotic automation helps car manufacturers manage the wholesale changes to long-established manufacturing methods and technologies.”