China's robot population to lead world by 2014

Worker's paradise to become nirvana for automata

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China is poised to take over from arch rival Japan as the biggest robotics market in the world in the next few years, as manufacturers struggle with rising labour costs and demand greater efficiencies.

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) said back in August that China had quadrupled its annual supply of industrial robots between 2006-2011, and now sits just ahead of the US but behind Korea and Japan.

“In the 50 years of the history of industrial robots there is no other country with such a dynamic growth of robot installations in such a short period of time,” the IFR said.

The bold prediction from the IFR is now that China will become the world’s biggest consumer of robots by 2014, with supply expected to jump from 22,600 in 2011 to 32,000 units, Xinhua said.

The pros and cons of using machinery instead of human resources are pretty obvious – although factory owners have to fork out for high up-front costs, modern robots can complete and repeat incredibly precise and complex tasks hour after hour. They don’t need sleep, lodgings or food and they certainly don’t strike.

Given that wages and worker unrest seem inexorably on the rise in the People’s Republic, the benefits of an automated alternative become increasingly obvious. The Chinese government’s last five-year plan demands annual wage increases of 13 per cent minimum, for example.

Big name ODM/OEMs like Foxconn are already looking to replace some of their staff with robots. The Taiwanese tech giant apparently had around 10,000 bots on the production line as of last year and is looking to ramp that number up to 300,000 by the end of 2012 and one million units by 2014.

Ironically, despite being at the centre of the global technology manufacturing supply chain, China’s home grown robot production industry is still at a very early stage, Gu Chunyuan, vice president at robot maker ABB told Xinhua.

“Despite the substantive demand, Chinese manufacturers still have to rely on some overseas suppliers for many key components, which may hinder the independent growth of China's robot sector,” he added. ®


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