Germany’s robotics and automation (R&A) industry has enjoyed unprecedented success over the last decade. With a workforce of more than 52 thousand employees, the industry’s turnover has more than quadrupled since the mid-1990s. Contributed by Claudia Gruene, Germany Trade & Invest, the economic development agency of the Federal Republic of Germany that helps create and secure extra employment opportunities to strengthen Germany as a business location.
Global Market Growth
According to the most recent industrial robots statistics from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), global robot sales in 2015 increased to the highest level ever recorded—with the international market value for robot systems estimated to be around US$35 billion. The IFR forecasts that robot installations will have a compound annual growth rate of at least 13 percent during the period 2017 to 2019. It is also estimated that more than 1.4 million new industrial robots will be installed in factories around the world between 2017 and 2019. The main drivers for this growth are expanding production capacities and the trend towards setting up automated manufacturing lines (e.g. by installing robot production assemblies). This development is confirmed by the findings of the KPMG Global Manufacturing Outlook study, with the majority of respondents identifying robotics as their number one research and development investment priority over the next two years.
Machine Vision—Leading Technology
As a global robotics hub, Germany is home to leading players from all market segments. Particular strengths are seen in machine vision (MV) technologies and human-machine collaboration. Germany is the most important sales market for the European image processing industry, with more than 30 percent of total industry turnover generated domestically. Automation and the implementation of MV technology help make consistently high quality, permanent traceability and 100 percent production accuracy a reality. High levels of production flexibility can be achieved and product changes quickly realised using efficient automation solutions. This has helped establish the industry as a major driver of Germany’s Industrie 4.0 advanced manufacturing initiative.
Industrie 4.0 And Human-Robot Collaboration
R&A technology provides the core elements for the development towards Industrie 4.0. The increasing application level of human-robot collaboration (HRC) represents a perfect example of the move towards connectivity within Industrie 4.0. Through its innovations, the German R&A industry contributes to further developments in machine learning, so that opportunities for HRC have significantly increased. Robotic assistance systems support human labour, with repetitive and physically demanding tasks increasingly being automated. It is expected that more than EUR 2.6 billion (approximately US$3.14 million) will be invested in Industrie 4.0 in Germany through to 2020.
Tomorrow’s Robotics and Automation Technologies
The R&A industry is one of the most innovative in the mechanical engineering sector. German original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the field of robotics and automation count among the globally leading companies in the industry. According to a recent McKinsey study, German R&A companies believe that customer-specific system and integration solutions as well as after-sales and service represent the most promising market growth fields. Advanced robotics and HRC are also considered amongst the major technological trends in the country’s R&A industry. In contrast to the rest of the mechanical engineering sector, R&A companies consider technological developments as being more important than trends; a position strongly underpinned by the high level of innovation within the industry.
Main Application Industries
The automotive industry is the leading client sector for industrial robotics in Germany. This is due to the fact that, in terms of turnover, the automotive industry is the largest industry in the country. A number of automotive OEMs and suppliers operate production facilities in Germany, thereby creating increased demand for industrial robots. The second largest customer is the electrical and electronics industry. However, the metal processing and machinery, plastics and chemicals as well as food industries also represent major R&A application sectors.
Growth Application Industries
Service and assistance robots are widely considered to be one of the major growth sectors in the automation industry. Industry analysts expect great sales prospects for the further automation of services and the respective product range. Service robots can carry out maintenance and inspection tasks, house work or the management of agricultural zones. Professionals expect that from 2020 to 2025, sales of service robots could reach the same level as that of industrial robots. German robot manufacturers in particular are among the world’s service robotics pioneers.
Stable Supplier Network
The German R&A industry is characterised by a strong industrial network, with a stable and reliable supplier network also among the success factors for the sector: Robot manufacturers, suppliers and application industries have their operations based in Germany as they are heavily dependent on electrical, mechanical and optical components for their products. High-technology component manufacturers can benefit from this industry infrastructure. In the MV industry, component turnover increased by more than 18 percent during the period 2014 to 2015 alone.
Value Chain Excellence
The sustained success of the German manufacturing industry is driven by complete value chain coverage. Numerous research institutions, close proximity to key supplier industries— including robotics, electronics, materials and software—and a strong industry base guarantee a pooling of resources of all actors within the value chain for optimal innovation and research and development excellence. This environment offers numerous business opportunities across multiple technology segments for international investors. Particular location strengths are seen in the industrial image processing, embedded vision and integrated assembly industries.
Competitive Labour Costs
High productivity rates and steady wage levels make Germany an extremely attractive investment location. Since 2005, wages in the manufacturing sector have risen in most European countries (EU-28), with the growth rate averaging 2.7 percent. While some countries—particularly those in Eastern Europe—experienced a rise of more than five percent, Germany recorded one of the lowest labour cost growth rates (2.1 percent) in the manufacturing sector within the European Union. Highly flexible working practices such as fixed-term contracts, shift systems, and 24/7 operating permits contribute to enhance Germany’s international competitiveness as a suitable investment location for internationally active businesses.
A Tradition of Engineering Quality
German R&A industry strength is driven by a combination of Germany’s proven engineering tradition, its position as a leader in technological development, and its highly diversified industrial base.
The machinery and equipment industry is one of the technological motors that drives Germany as a high-tech nation combining all of the key future technologies, such as materials, electronics, software, and robotics: Researchers, companies and employees active in the R&A industry profit from the country’s reputation and global know-how.
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