Rise of the machines: China looks to become global leader in robotics

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Chinese firms are making serious progress in industrial robotics, a sector that has historically been dominated by Japanese and European rivals. That’s according to the latest report by ABI Research.

“The top four Chinese industrial robotics vendors reported a topline growth of 20 percent year-on-year in 2016 and a similar figure is expected for next few years,” says Lian Jye Su, principal analyst at research and advisory company ABI Research. “Their Japanese and European counterparts were either contracting or experiencing low single-digit growth in the same period.”

The surge demonstrated by China’s robotics suppliers was reportedly boosted by intense government pressure and strong investments in research and development by the corporations. In 2013, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology introduced the Guidance on Promotion of Development of the Robot Industry to boost robot development by 2020.

Meanwhile, Chinese robotics companies and internet giants have been heavily investing in key robotics technologies. According to the report, China is projected to become the biggest single market of industrial robots with total shipments of 134,000 this year.

However, Chinese suppliers still have a long path to travel to compete with such industry veterans as India’s GreyOrange, Switzerland’s Buchs-based Swisslog, California’s Fetch Robotics and Germany’s Magazino in international markets. In addition, Chinese robotics suppliers are still lagging in terms of key components, according to the report.

“Chinese robotics vendors are still sourcing key robotics components from international companies. Top reduction gear vendors, for example, mainly come from Japan, while German firms have been in the leading position of gripper and machine vision technology,” the analyst says, adding that US startups have succeeded in developing actuators, LIDAR technology, and soft material handling.

“There will be a long road ahead before Chinese robotics suppliers fully develop in-house solutions but given what we have observed from other technology sectors, it is a matter of when, not if,” Lian Jye Su stresses.

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