The rise of Chi­nese ro­bot­ics com­pa­nies: A mat­ter of when, not if

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - ROBOTICS -

His­tor­i­cally, the in­dus­trial ro­bot­ics space has tra­di­tion­ally been dom­i­nated by Ja­panese and Eu­ro­pean ven­dors, while the com­mer­cial ro­bot­ics has been the strong­hold of ro­bot star­tups from the United States and Eu­rope. How­ever, re­cent de­vel­op­ments sug­gest that Chi­nese ven­dors are stak­ing a claim in the ro­bot­ics ter­ri­tory, ac­cord­ing to ABI Re­search, a mar­ket-fore­sight ad­vi­sory firm pro­vid­ing strate­gic guid­ance on the most com­pelling trans­for­ma­tive tech­nolo­gies.

“The top four Chi­nese in­dus­trial ro­bot­ics ven­dors re­ported a topline growth of 20 per­cent year- on-year in 2016 and a sim­i­lar fig­ure is ex­pected for next few years. Their Ja­panese and Eu­ro­pean coun­ter­parts were ei­ther con­tract­ing or ex­pe­ri­enc­ing low sin­gle- digit growth in the same pe­riod. Two fac­tors spurring their growth: China- based ware­hous­ing ro­bot com­pa­nies have been ac­tively ex­pand­ing their over­seas op­er­a­tions and China’s over­all heavy push into 5G and AI,” says Lian Jye Su, Prin­ci­pal An­a­lyst at ABI Re­search.

The rise of Chi­nese ro­bot­ics sup­pli­ers is due to a strong govern­ment pres­sure and heavy in­vest­ments in R&D by the com­pa­nies. China is ex­pected to be­come the world’s largest sin­gle mar­ket of in­dus­trial ro­bots, with to­tal ship­ments of 134,000 in 2018, based on ABI Re­search’s fore­cast. To be­come the leader in ro­bot­ics tech­nol­ogy, the Chi­nese govern­ment re­leased its Guid­ance for the De­vel­op­ment of the Ro­bot­ics In­dus­try for 2016 to 2020. At the same time, Chi­nese ro­bot­ics com­pa­nies and in­ter­net gi­ants have been in­vest­ing in key ro­bot­ics tech­nolo­gies. There have been some early suc­cesses: Shang­hai Si­a­sun has launched its own dual-arm, seven-axis col­lab­o­ra­tive ro­bot and Geek+ man­aged to raise USD60 mil­lion in the lat­est fund­ing round.

Ad­mit­tedly, it would be very chal­leng­ing for Chi­nese in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial ro­bot­ics sup­pli­ers to repli­cate the roar­ing suc­cess of DJI, and to a cer­tain ex­tent Eco­v­acs, in both do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional mar­kets. Chi­nese in­dus­trial ro­bot­ics ven­dors only have 30 per­cent mar­ket share in the do­mes­tic mar­ket led by Shang­hai Step Elec­tric, Shang­hai Si­a­sun, Es­tun, and Guang­dong Top­star Tech. De­spite be­ing backed by ma­jor e-re­tail­ers such as Alibaba and Sun­ing, Geek+ will find the over­seas mar­ket a dif­fer­ent ball game, as it squares off with es­tab­lished play­ers, such as GreyOrange, Swiss­log, Fetch Ro­bot­ics and Magazino.

In ad­di­tion, Chi­nese ro­bot­ics sup­pli­ers are still lag­ging in terms of key com­po­nents. “Chi­nese ro­bot­ics ven­dors are still sourc­ing key ro­bot­ics com­po­nents from in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies. Top re­duc­tion gear ven­dors, for ex­am­ple, mainly come from Ja­pan, while Ger­man firms have been in the lead­ing po­si­tion of grip­per and ma­chine vi­sion tech­nol­ogy. Mean­while, U.S. start-ups have been in­tro­duc­ing in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions in ac­tu­a­tor, LiDAR, and soft ma­te­rial han­dling,” con­tin­ues Su. “All these key com­po­nents are es­sen­tial to the com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage and cost mar­gin of ro­bot­ics man­u­fac­tur­ers. There will be a long road ahead be­fore Chi­nese ro­bot­ics sup­pli­ers fully de­velop in-house so­lu­tions but given what we have ob­served from other tech­nol­ogy sec­tors, it is a mat­ter of when, not if.”

These find­ings are from ABI Re­search’s In­dus­trial and Com­mer­cial Ro­bot­ics Mar­ket re­port. This re­port is part of the com­pany’s Ro­bot­ics, Au­to­ma­tion & In­tel­li­gent Sys­tems re­search ser­vice, which in­cludes re­search, data, and Ex­ec­u­tive Fore­sights.

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