A Look at the Chinese Robotics Industry

Today, the world is experiencing an unprecedented turn toward robotic automation. Though robots are being developed and deployed all over the globe, one market stands out: China, which saw its industrial robotics market grow by 17% in 2015.

As the world’s most populous country – its population is 1.39 billion – Chinese nationals make up almost 20% of Earth’s population. With such figures, it faces unique challenges in developing a consistent, cutting-edge industrial infrastructure that can realize the population’s full potential.

Over the last few decades, the Chinese industrial sector has largely been known for widespread participation in off-shoring, leveraging its resources to produce goods for multinational firms at a reduced cost. But things are changing rapidly due to robotics.

Low-cost robotic automation in the U.S. is making outsourcing less attractive. At the same time, Chinese business leaders are taking an aggressive tack implementing robotics.

The Chinese Robotic Revolution is Already in Full Swing

Robots have already made such a global impact that European regulators have considered taxing them like people. With a haul of about 68,000 new robotic units, however, China’s adoption dwarfs the entire European market.

Foreign-based manufacturers supply most robotic units, but the Chinese share is growing.

Where are they all going? Worldwide, the majority of robotic growth is seen in automotive, electronics, metal, and plastics. In China’s Guangdong province – a hub for heavy industry – is perhaps the main benefactor of accelerated investment.

In one case, just nine robots were able to replace a human workforce of 140. Following an initial investment of $3 million, quality control and productivity noticeably improved. Throughout the province, the same process is being repeated at thousands of factories.

For years, China has been developing an edge in its robotic revolution:

  • Since 2013, China has led the world in industrial robot purchases each year;
  • China is expected to remain the #1 user of industrial robots;
  • The country now has about 36 robots per 10,000 manufacturing workers.

While robotic labor does promise to displace many laborers, the greater concern in China is of the labor gap created by an aging population. As more people depart from the workforce or grow beyond prime manufacturing age, robots are key to keeping the industrial sector healthy.

Robotics has the potential to strengthen China's productivity and quality. Thanks to its unprecedented embrace of robotics, it is an example to manufacturing economies across the globe.