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Collaborative Robot Adoption is Driven by Manufacturers

The collaborative robot (cobot) industry is advancing globally as more companies seek to lower manufacturing costs and increase the speed of production. While the established industrial robot vendors have made some progress, the pure cobot developers are creating ergonomic systems.

Guided by early innovators and adopters, the collaborative robotics market will become mainstream over the next 10 years. According to the latest worldwide market study by ABI Research, the yearly revenue for cobot arms will reach $11.8 billion by 2030 -- that's an increase from $711 million in 2019.

Collaborative Robot Market Development

Furthermore, the total value of the collaborative market is much greater, when accounting for software-related revenues and end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) accessories. Under this broader definition of the market, the cobot ecosystem is worth just over $1 billion in 2019 and will be worth $24 billion by 2030, with a CAGR of 28.6 percent.

"The prospects for the collaborative robotics market remain strong, despite some very visible inhibitors," said Rian Whitton, senior analyst at ABI Research. "The hardware innovation is still trailing behind, and most of the value related to cobots does not come from collaboration."

According to the ABI assessment, the real benefits come through ease-of-use, re-programmability, the lower total cost compared to industrial systems, and re-deployability. In essence, the value is one of lowering barriers rather than building entirely new use-cases for robots.

Moreover, cobots still trail industrial systems in speed, performance, and payload, which will have to change if adoption growth is to continue at this accelerated rate.

Currently, the cobot market as a percentage of the industrial market is very small. In terms of revenue, all revenue from cobot arms is 5 percent of industrial robot hardware, but that will increase to 29 percent by 2030.

Through advances in sensors, machine vision, and motion control, industrial robots will increasingly take on the benefits of collaborative systems. The value prospect for software innovation is strong too, growing from $558 million in 2020 to $10.6 billion in 2030. Most of this value will be attributed to analytics, perception, motion control, and operations-related software.

With 59 percent of global cobot shipments in 2018, Universal Robots is the clear market leader. They have managed to achieve relevance for screw-driving applications in the auto industry, attracting the business of big car manufacturers and component suppliers like Lear and Continental, while also being employed by smaller companies for pick & place and machine tending applications.

Some companies, like manufacturer Jabil, are deploying collaborative robots en masse for their effectiveness as re-deployable and flexible assets in an increasingly fast-changing working environment.

Outlook for Cobot Applications Innovation

Manufacturing is requiring more flexibility through customization, last-minute orders, and the increasing relevance of high-volume, low-mix automation. To meet this challenge, the current roster of cobot solutions are not a complete panacea but are an important step in the direction of a leaner and more flexible workstation.

"Collaborative systems are not revolutionizing the industry so much as being the catalyst for a leaner and more flexible industrial robotic solution that opens the field up to small and medium manufacturers," Whitton concludes.

As the demands of customization and high-mix, low-volume manufacturing present managers with new challenges, ABI analysts believe that this technological development will be crucial in transitioning to a more adaptable solution.

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