Autonomous mobile robots grow beyond car manufacturing, get heavier loads

Autonomous mobile robots grow beyond automotive manufacturing, get heavier loads

Last year, more than 20,000 autonomous mobile robots were shipped globally — more than double the amount in 2017, according to the latest quarterly report from Interact Analysis.

Although all regions saw growth, Asia and China in particular were the largest drivers, noted Ash Sharma, research director for commercial drone and robotics research at Interact Analysis. The analyst firm expects the number of units shipped to grow to 350,000 by 2022, noting that Amazon alone has already installed more than 200,000 autonomous mobile robots.

At the same time, the total number of robots shipped to North America set new records, according to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). In 2018, 35,880 robots were shipped, a 7% increase over 2017. The RIA also found that shipments to companies outside of automotive manufacturers increased by 41%, particularly to food and consumer goods, plastics and rubber, life sciences, and electronics.

While demand among supply chain and e-commerce operations for autonomonous mobile robots (AMRs) is strong, revenues grew only 10%, with Dematic as the No. 1 supplier. Larger, deck-load and forklift robots are also in high demand, said Interact Analysis.

Ash Sharma, Interact Analysis

Ash Sharma, Interact Analysis

Sharma responded to questions from The Robot Report on takeaways from the report for developers and users of autonomous mobile robots.

Are there any hardware or software developments that have helped the global market for AMRs grow so much in the past year?

Sharma: I would say that that the growth is more down to the industry bearing the fruits of several years of piloting. Those initial pilots are now turning to partial deployments, which is driving the demand for orders of magnitude more AMRs.

How does the 20,000 autonomous mobile robot figure compare with other types of robots?

Sharma: The number is similar in scale to collaborative robot arms, such as those from Universal Robots. We calculate that around 17,000 cobots were shipped last year. Traditional, industrial robot shipments were much higher – 350,000 were shipped last year.

Aside from Amazon and Dematic, what other companies that are leading the way?

Sharma: This is hard to put a definite answer on, mainly because there are many AMR/AGV [automated guided vehicle] approaches that are addressing different automation problems, whether that’s item picking in fulfillment centers or conveying pallets in a manufacturing site.

I would say, however, that right now, in terms of volume, that it appears that Geek+ and GreyOrange had a pretty good year in 2018, but the stellar growth is certainly not isolated to these two.

Autonomous mobile robots grow beyond automotive manufacturing, get heavier loads

Do you anticipate this trend to continue in 2019, or will trade concerns cause a slowdown in some parts of the world?

Sharma: Yes, absolutely, we believe it will continue. The underlying macro drivers are still huge and will not be abating any time soon.

A shrinking labor pool, increasing labor costs, the need to save costs overall and to reduce worker risks will continue to drive demand for mobile automation. If anything, the trade tensions could help drive growth, as both the U.S. and China are trying to increase manufacturing domestically for political reasons. They’re also enhance their quality of manufacturing, so both of these factors promote demand for automation.

What capability is the market looking for next? Is it mobile manipulation, faster robots, greater intelligence/autonomy, more safety features, or higher payloads?

Sharma: Perhaps all of the above to differing degrees! Recently, there has been demand for higher-payload robots because typically, the heavier the loads, more dangerous processes are for manual workers. But ultimately, there’s no single source of demand — the market is diverse, and customers are looking for solutions to their problems. No one size fits all.

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