Sales of industrial robots shot up a staggering 31 percent last year.
That's according to new data from the International Federation of Robotics, a major industry trade group. The data confirms previous anecdotal reports, as well as data from the Association for Advancing Automation (A3).
The biggest growth came from China, where sales rose 58 percent. Sales growth in the U.S. was modest by comparison, reaching just 6 percent.
The strongest growth sectors were the metal industry, the electronics industry, and, somewhat surprisingly, the food industry.
Despite previous indications, demand for automation in the automotive industry, which has been the pillar of industrial automation since the 1950s, continues to be strong.
Global demand in the automotive industry rose 21 percent.
"The growth of industrial robots continues at an impressive pace worldwide," says Junji Tsuda, President of the International Federation of Robotics. "Key trends such as digitalisation, simplification and human-robot collaboration will certainly shape the future and drive forward rapid development."
Falling prices account for some of the growth, but another factor is the increasing accessibility and ease-of-use of collaborative robots.
Many tabletop models used in a variety of industries have become intuitive to set up and easily programmable through demonstration.
Sales growth for task-agnostic, flexible industrial robots is expected to continue throughout 2018 and beyond.