Robot density: A strange metric elegantly illustrates the revolution underway

A new report from the International Federation of Robotics suggests a global tipping point

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A new report issued by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) uses an appealing metric to track the surging global robotics market: Robot density.

Not surprisingly, IFR researchers found there's been a sharp uptick in global robot density, with an average of 74 units per 10,000 workers globally. That's up from 66 units per 10,000 workers in 2015.

Broken out regionally, Europe boasts an average density of 99 robots per 10,000 workers. The Americas came in next with a density of 84, and Asia, where the availability of cheap labor in some countries has forestalled automation slightly, has a density of 63.

"Robot density is an excellent standard for comparison in order to take into account the differences in the automation degree of the manufacturing industry in various countries," says Junji Tsuda, President of the International Federation of Robotics. "As a result of the high volume of robot installations in Asia in recent years, the region has the highest growth rate."

From 2010 to 2016, robot density grew an average of 9 percent in Asia. That's compared to 5 percent in Europe.

The strongest growth was largely driven by China's heavy investment in automation over the last five years as it works toward its China 2020 vision.

Between 2013 and 2016, China's robot density per 10,000 workers rose from a paltry 23 to 68.

Worldwide, another Asian country, the Republic of Korea, which is currently showcasing its robotics prowess as host of the Olympics, remains on top by a wide margin. The country's robot density is 631.

That's not a typo -- South Korea has more than eight times the manufacturing robots as the global average. That makes it a fascinating bellwether for the automation revolution already underway around the world.

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