by Symela Touchtidou, @stouchtidou

For decades, the introduction of robots in production lines has been the ultimate fear of the global workforce, as it was believed it would kill millions of jobs. Nowadays, the narrative is reversed.

The real job killer would be not to use robots,” Susanne Bieller, General Secretary of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) told Greek Business File.

The fear that machines will render large swaths of people unemployed is vastly overblown,” says the World Economic Forum (WEF), the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation, headquartered in Geneva. “By taking over the drudgery of repetitive tasks and the danger of more perilous ones, automation will free up humans to do more challenging work—interfacing with customers, developing better products, and, yes, managing those robots themselves,” WEF concludes.

Many experts believe that automation is actually going to create massive numbers of new jobs. The World Economic Forum predicts automation will result in a net increase of 58 million jobs.

Record numbers

It is about looking at the good side of an unavoidable situation. According to data published by IFR in December, 2021, robotic sales are on the rise. A record 3 million industrial robots are operating in factories around the world. Despite the global pandemic, robot sales grew slightly in 2020 at a rate of +0.5%. China led the rebound ahead of the Americas and Europe. Overall, 2020 was the third most successful year on record for the robotics industry. The outlook for 2021 is more optimistic with a double-digit growth projected.

Assembly and test of smartphones (source: IFR)

Robot density is the barometer to track the degree of automation adoption in the manufacturing industry around the world,” says Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics.

Champions of the field come from Asia. The Republic of Korea is the country with the world´s highest robot density in the manufacturing industry, a position it holds since 2010.

Singapore takes second place. The country’s robot density had been growing by 27% on average each year since 2015. Japan is the world’s predominant industrial robot manufacturer and delivers 45% of the global robot supply. In 2020, China had the most dynamic development of robot density worldwide.

In Europe, 67,700 new robots were installed in 2020, 8% lower than in 2019. This was the second year of decline, as demand from the automotive industry dropped by 20%. Nevertheless, demand from the general industry was up by 14%.

Germany, one of the five major robot markets in the world, has the fourth largest robot density worldwide, followed by Sweden (fifth largest robot density worldwide).

From 2015 to 2020, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of robot installations in Europe was up by 6%.

Among the 21 countries with the highest robot density globally, in Europe we also see: Denmark (10th position), Italy (11th), Belgium & Luxembourg (12th), Netherlands (13th), Austria (14th), Spain (15th), France (16th), Slovenia (17th), Switzerland (18th), Slovakia (20th) and the Czech Republic (21th).

Robots in Greece

According to the consolidated data reported directly to the IFR Statistical Department by robot suppliers worldwide, in 2020, 372 robots (+21%) were installed in Israel, 230 units (+14%) in Ireland, and 94 robots (+19%) were installed in Greece.

The data that IFR has compiled collectively for Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel and Malta show that robot CAGR has increased by 16% between 2015–2020. About 4,400 units of operational robots are active in the five countries, 12% higher than in 2019.

Collaborative robot supports assembly staff (source: IFR)

In Greece more specifically, no systematic effort has been made to record robotic applications in manufacturing or in other industries. What emerges as a general conclusion from a handful of news investigations, as well as a series of interviews conducted by the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises with business executives and representatives of the academic community, is that the Greek industry is lagging behind in the integration of robotic systems.

The main reasons are:

  • small business size,

  • absence of long-term investment plans and

  • the fact that robotic systems installations serve high-volume production (that usually does not exist in Greece).

Another significant constraint is the fact that a large part of the business community lacks knowledge on the growth potential offered by modern robotics (source: Special Report on Robots and Employment, October 2019, Hellenic Federation of Enterprises – SEV).

The rest of the article is published in the January/ February issue of Greek Business File. It is part of the cover story on the autonomous production methods powered by robots. It presents the global trends in the robotics markets, the level of robotic process automation in Greek enterprises, the pioneers of the sector in Greece and the Greek companies that have emerged as Industrial Robot Companies. The January / February issue of Greek Business File is available here.