According to a new analysis by Inkwood Research, the global market for collaborative robots is on track to generate a net revenue of about $9.27 billion by 2025.
That's up from $263 million in 2016, a compound annual growth rate of 49.14 percent, and it represents an astounding pace of adoption for a class of technology that largely didn't exist until 2008, when Universal Robots brought UR5, an early collaborative unit, to market.
It also suggests that more small- and medium-sized companies are turning to robots as a way to drive down labor costs and increase productivity. Many so-called cobots cost around $30K.
What are cobots?
Cobots are small, typically single- or double-armed devices that can be programmed on the fly to do a number of mundane tasks, from picking and placing items to precision assembly.
The robots themselves are platforms. By kitting out base models from companies like ABB and Universal Robotics with an array of sensors and end effectors (such as grippers or suckers), end-users can easily customize units for a huge array of tasks.
Currently, the most common use cases include packaging, assembling, material handling, machine tending, and quality testing.
End-users include customers in industries such as automotive, electronic and semiconductor, food and beverage, plastic and polymer, aerospace, and metals and machining.
The key features that differentiate cobots from previous industrial robots is that they're task agnostic and can safely operate alongside humans. Designed with force sensors and other safety mechanisms, they will abort an action if any unexpected contact occurs, such as bumping into a worker on an assembly line.
That means they don't have to live in safety cages.
Why it matters
This is the robot revolution in motion. It probably feels more subtle than you thought.
But the proof is in the sales. There's increasing demand for small, flexible robotic platforms in numerous industries. One reason is that there's a lack of skilled workers in the market, a problem summed up in this New York Times piece.
Cobots are proving incredibly popular for small to medium-sized companies because they offer short integration time and require a low initial investment. They also bypass a huge problem for smaller businesses, which is employee turnover and the attendant retraining costs.
Cobots, by comparison, can be trained once, don't take holidays, and don't require benefits. It's user-friendly automation at a price-point that even mom and pop shops can swallow.
For better or worse, that is absolutely a game changer. Don't be surprised in the coming few years if your local market has a robot restocking shelves.
Other factors responsible for the surging market and stiffening competition include widening applications of collaborative robots, falling sensor and platform prices, and heavy investments by robotics companies over the past decade in research and development.