Which countries are leading the robot revolution in manufacturing, and why?
Global research by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) has shown that robot density in manufacturing has risen. According to the IFR, robot density measures the number of robots per 10,000 workers in an industry. Between 2015 and 2016, the Federation reported that the world’s average robot density in manufacturing rose from 66 to 74.
As robots become cheaper and more widely available, the increase is unsurprising. Manufacturing has particularly benefitted from advanced bots, the automation of production lines and cutting down on human error. In this list, D/SRUPTION examines the five countries with the highest number of robots in manufacturing… But they might not be the ones you’d expect.
1) The Republic of Korea: 631
Since 2010, the Republic of Korea (also called South Korea) has had the world’s highest robot density. At 631 robots per 10,000 human workers, the Republic of Korea’s robot density is eight times higher than the global average. The country’s aptitude for robotics has stemmed, in part, from a need to meet the healthcare requirements of a steadily ageing population. By 2020, more than eight million South Koreans will be over 65 years old. Robots are viewed as a key part of the solution, and have received government support and funding. Notable companies include Hyundai Heavy Industries, SK Telecom, and RoboStar Co.
2) Singapore: 488
With a robot density of 488, Singapore is still a long way behind the Republic of Korea. That said, the country’s automated ascendance is impressive, especially considering its size… The sovereign city state is just half the size of London. Singapore’s self containment may be partly why it has so many bots, as it provides the perfect test bed for automated urban systems. Airbus is trialling drones in the city, and it remains a hot spot for self driving cars.
3) Germany: 309
As well as being an avid adopter of manufacturing robots, Germany is a leading producer too. Germany’s booming automotive industry can be credited with driving the correlation between bot density and industrial growth. Research conducted by a team of German academics also claims that German workers who are exposed to robots don’t suffer the same negative effects as workers in other countries. Instead, they suggest that robot exposure makes German workers more likely to stay in their jobs.
4) Japan: 303
Closely following Germany is Japan. Given Japanese propensity for robot culture, their place on the list is unsurprising. One of the most well known and capable robots on the market is Pepper, a humanoid made by Japan’s SoftBank Robotics. While Pepper isn’t going to be doing any heavy lifting on the production line, it represents Japanese interest in automated machines. However, their high robot density in manufacturing is due to more than just a fondness for bots. Japan suffers from a chronic labour shortage – the Japanese government itself states that labour productivity is 40 per cent lower than in the US.
5) Sweden: 223
Sweden is another European heavyweight when it comes to bot adoption and, like Germany, it’s partly to do with their automotive prominence. Swedish automaker Volvo has embarked on a number of interesting robotic projects. Rather than viewing robots as job stealers, Sweden has a largely positive attitude. A 2017 survey by the European Commission reported that 80 per cent of Swedes welcomed robots and AI, and Swedish trade unions openly embrace automation. Sweden even has employee-funded job security councils that help workers to pursue new roles if they are affected by robots.
A note on China
While Chinese robot density lagged behind in 2016 at a modest 68, China has experienced the most accelerated growth rate. In 2015, Chinese robot density sat at just 25. However, by 2020, this is expected to rise to 150. And, while China might not employ a high number of industrial robots, it is a major market for global robot sales.
The Republic of Korea is likely to retain its lead due to strong government support, a complementary infrastructure, and a workforce that has already been familiarised with industrial robotics. China will climb the list, but may not be able to challenge its Asian and European rivals quite yet. Overall, robot density has become an important metric for measuring technological adoption and automation. Now that we are entering the bot economy, workers, unions, companies and governments must work to make the transition as smooth as possible.
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