- Deloitte predicts that one million robots will be sold for enterprise use in 2020, generating £27 billion in revenue.
- The UK service sector represents a major opportunity for increased automation in the workplace.
- Anticipating use cases and ROI will be an important task for strategists ‒ both for those who make and sell robots, and for those who use them.
Robots are transforming businesses, and the market will not only get bigger, but also change shape. While industrial robots, like those used in factories, will continue to grow in volume, it’s the ones used for service work that will really start to show their mettle.
Around a million robots will be sold to enterprises in 2020 in a market worth £27 billion ‒ up 18 per cent year on year. What’s notable is that more than half of these will be professional service robots: that’s 30 per cent more than in 2019, as compared to a 9 per cent increase in sales of their industrial siblings.
New robots for old
A well-established industrial robot is the mechanical arm, used mainly for repetitive manufacturing tasks such as assembling cars, with the automotive and electronics industries accounting for some 60 per cent of industrial robot sales. They’ve been used since the 1970s, making production cheaper, faster and more reliable and, although they represent a tiny fraction of the overall workforce, they’re on the increase, and will have almost doubled in number in the five years to 2021.
It’s only in the past decade that professional service robots have started making headway. They’re more varied in form and function, and used mainly in logistics, retail, hospitality and healthcare. Most are designed for time-consuming, repetitive or dangerous tasks.
Connectivity is a major obstacle for service robots: when they move, it’s hard to keep fast, reliable and sustained data contact. In June 2020, 5G Release 16 is being finalised, which should address this issue, promising nearly 100% reliability. Meanwhile, newer, AI-specific chips will put intensive processing tasks inside the robot itself, rather than in the cloud, while also needing less space and power.
With these developments, the distinction between manufacturing and service robots may diminish. More capable and flexible machines will allow more agile manufacturing decisions, allowing production processes and products to respond better to market conditions and demand.
The UK as customer
Despite global growth in robotics, the UK has been slow on the uptake, ranking 22nd worldwide in terms of robot density. This is mainly because service industries dominate our economy, while robots are currently used mainly in manufacturing. But with the service sector contributing 80% of UK GDP, professional service robots may deliver just what the UK needs.
What’s more, UK labour costs have been low, thanks mostly to Eastern European workers, but recent political developments have made them scarce ‒ especially in agricultural and logistics industries. These are areas where robots could provide a cost-effective alternative, and current figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that around 1.5 million UK jobs could have some tasks automated, which shows the potential for robots to lend a hand
The UK as provider
Britain is not simply a potential market for robots; it could also become a major player in their design and development. British start-ups currently account for 6% of the global robotics market, and the UK has recently launched a major research programme to develop robots and systems that can provide autonomous, safe and trustworthy care for the elderly.
A new generation of more capable and flexible robots will become increasingly useful in the workplace. Correctly anticipating use cases and ROI will be an important task for strategists ‒ both for those who make and sell robots, and for those who use them.
How has COVID-19 changed this prediction?
Original Prediction: The quantity of professional service robots sold in 2020 will surpass industrial robot arms for the first time, growing 30% over 2019 versus industrial robots’ growth of only 10%.
Revised Prediction: Professional service robots may grow closer to 40%, while industrial robots may decline 10% or more.
Why? More than half of professional services robots are for the surging warehouse, logistics and medical verticals, while 60% of industrial robots are for paused automotive and electrical/electronics industries.
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