China, the world’s top manufacturing nation, is home to a strong industry that supplies the rest of the world with plenty of goods. The country’s manufacturing sector is now seeing a new trend that points to where the industry is headed: robots are becoming a predominant part of the workforce as “a severe worker shortage and soaring labor costs” are becoming the new normal there, according to state news agency Xinhua.
Industrial robots are a common sight in factories across China, a country that saw 36,860 robots sold in 2013. The robot market in the world’s second largest economy saw a 36% increase of sales of industrial robots on an annual basis last year, according to the China Robot Industry Alliance (CRIA). Out of all the robots that were sold there 9,597 came from domestic producers, and the remaining 73% were imported. In this specific sector developing a strong production base remains China’s biggest challenge.
CRIA also reported that China overtook Japan as the world’s largest robot market last year, which explains the fact that annual sales in China represent about 20% of the global market). Worldwide, about 179,000 industrial robots were sold, an all-time high and 12% more than in 2012, according to the International Federation of Robotics.
As global demand for industrial robots is on the rise, China’s case holds some specifics: “The passion for robots comes as Chinese businesses face pressure from a lack of manpower,” reports Xinhua. All this is encompassed at the moment, during which “governments at various levels in China have announced new strategies to support the production and application of robots, hoping the technology can make businesses more profitable and steer local economic development.”
Yet the rise of the robots isn’t only visible in the manufacturing industry. The Chinese Robotics Federation believes there is a bigger potential market for service robots in the country than industrial ones, both in public places and at home, according to China’s CCTV. Speaking to the news agency, the federation’s general secretary Song Xiaogang said, “In the next three to five years, service robots will develop even faster than industrial robots. For example, there are more and more old people and nearly 100 million disabled people in the country. That’s just one potential area that robots could play a role. So it’s just a matter of time that the market growth of service robots will exceed that of industrial robots.”
As global demand for industrial robots continues to grow higher and higher, it seems likely that they will play a major part in a country like China that relies so heavily on manufacturing. This will become increasingly evident as they become more affordable. And, as the global competition increases, China will not only seek to import them but be a major market producer as well.