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Cobots in Manufacturing

Industrial robots deployed in manufacturing plants worldwide. Source: IFR World Robotics 2018

I am working, with several other people, in the preparation of the third White Paper on Symbiotic Autonomous Systems focussing on today’s use, after the first White Paper addressing the Vision and the second detailing the Roadmaps, and I am looking for contribution from industry in addition to the ones that have already joined in its preparation. If you are interested in providing a concrete testimony of use of autonomous systems please let me know and if you have updated market data please share them!

In these series of post, starting now discussing cobots market in manufacturing, I am setting the stage.


Robots are impersonating the idea of autonomous systems in our imagination. The first robot to enter a manufacturing plant was back in 1961 where it started working at the General Motors assembly line in Ewing. In these (almost) 60 years robots have become pervasive in most manufacturing sectors and in many cases production will not be possible without robot (like in most consumer electronic products).

They have both increased in number, in flexibility and in autonomy.

The major areas of applications are automotive, electronics and metal industries. In terms of geography, Far East Asia is leading (4 times the European market and over 6 times the North American market), with China being the biggest market, followed by Japan, South Korea. In Europe Germany is leading followed by Italy and France. In the Americas, US is leading with Mexico growing rapidly.

Pharma and cosmetics industries are seeing a significant uptake of robots followed by food processing industry.

In 2017 there were 2.1 million industrial robots in operation, the expected figure for 2019 is around 2.778 million with a robot density in 2017 (average) of 85 robots per 10,000 workers, with Europe showing the highest density (106 robots per 10,000 workers) but South Korea having a record of 710 robots per 10,000 workers (Germany has 322 robots per 10,000). Notable is China increase from 11 robots to 97 per 10,000 over a period of 8 years.

A new generation of robots, cobots,is rising and first flanking and then replacing exisitng robots. Image credit: Kuka

Manufacturing is now entering a new stage of robotics, with the deployment of collaborative robots – aka cobots. Cobots are designed to collaborate with humans as well as among themselves. Already operational in several manufacturing plants and in logistics have demonstrated a decrease in number of accidents since it is no longer just the worker that need to pay attention and be situational aware but also the cobots.

This market was valued at close to 650 million $ globally in 2018 and it is expected grow at a 44% CAGR in the period 2019-2025 to reach 10 billion $ in 2025.

Logistics is expected to drive innovation and growth of cobots.

Cobots are classified in three categories, depending on their payload, i.e. below 5kg, between 5 and 10 and over 10kg. These latter are the ones with the highest expected CAGR, 46%.

The fastest growth is foreseen in the automotive, electronics, packaging/assembling and logistics.

The uptake of Industry 4.0 with its integration of the various phases in the value chain may further push the adoption of collaborative robots and MarketsandMarkets estimate the cobot market value in 2025 to reach 12.3 billion thanks to the rapid adoption of Industry 4.0 pardigms. We are referring here to “paradigm” since the effective use of cobots requires a rethinking of the operations on the manufacturing plan, with a re-organization of the work flow and a re-training of workers that have to become “symbiotic” with their robotic colleagues.

This is possibly one of the biggest challenge for the industry. Additionally, industry 4.0 goes hand in hand with the Digital Transformation process, affecting both workers and robots/cobots. They all have to interface and collaborate with the cyberspace. Digital Twins are becoming part of this process and this should be considered when evaluating the market. The figures provided here reflect the physical world market value. The Digital Transformation will shift and add value in the cyberspace.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.