Hold-afstand og andre foranstaltninger mod corona-virussen fører til en stærk stigning i brugen af robotter, vurderer Merrill. Det ses i industrien, især i den tunge industri, og Kina er langt foran alle andre. Men det ses også i serviceindustrien, hvor robotter som Flippy og Sally laver hamburgers og salater, og hvor Neo disinficerer hospitalsgulvene. Den store efterspørgsel efter robotter har givet det globale indeks for robotter og automatisering en langt kraftigere stigning siden nytår end de generelle globale indeks – på over 11 pct.
Robots: Long Flippy, Sally, Neo and Others Like Them
Well into the pandemic of 2020, it is increasingly clear that coronavirus will accelerate the adoption of robots and robotics automation. The new normal—social distancing – means increased demand for the services of Flippy, Sally
and Neo and others like them. Flippy—go figure—flips hamburgers and cooks French fries; Sally makes customized salads, and Neo spends days scrubbing and disinfecting hospital floors.
They are all part of the coming boom in service robots in particular and
the secular march of machines in general. While the global recession and attendant decline in capital spending weakened global robot shipments in the second quarter, long-term growth dynamics remain promising.
Even the most mature part of the robotics market—industrial robots—is positioned for an upturn in growth owing to de-globalization and the ensuing reconfiguration of global supply chains.
A more fragmented world means more duplication of supply chains and more “reshoring” of production, which translates to more demand for capital
spending, including robots. Another tailwind to robotic growth: the greater dispersion of global demand. To this point, in 2018, just five nations (China, the United States, Japan, Germany and South Korea) accounted for 74% of global robot installations (seeExhibit 2).
This concentration of demand, however is expected to decline as more
companies in other parts of the world embrace robots in the face of declining labor force participation rates, rising wages and restrictive immigration policies.
In addition, the largest users of industrial robots are the automotive and electrical/electronic sectors, which combined, accounted for 60% of all global demand for industrial robots in 2018.
Yet as other manufacturers (e.g., the meat packing industry, plastics and chemicals, food and beverages) adjust their factory floors/configurations
in the post-pandemic world, demand for industrial robots is expected to expand beyond traditional users.
Demand for robots like Sally and Neo will be even stronger. Albeit from a low base, sales of professional service robots have soared over the past few years, rising 124% in 2017, 61% in 2018 and by an estimated 33% last year according to estimates from the International Federation of Robotics (Exhibit 3).
The estimated pre-pandemic growth of 37% for service robots in 2020 is likely to be a conservative estimate given the coronavirus premium on social distancing and less human-to-human contact, and hence the soaring demand for service robots.
Recent demand for robots has been particularly strong in healthcare and retail, or two sectors where person-to-person contact has been significantly altered and constrained by the pandemic. Robots are being used to disinfect entire hospitals, handle biohazardous medical waste, sort and distribute lab results, and deliver food and medical supplies to those in need.
Many of these functions are considered high-risk activities to humans, notably during a pandemic. But the more service robots are deployed, the safer and healthier the workforce, and the lesser the risks of spreading coronavirus.
Service robots are also stocking shelves for retailers, in addition to tracking inventories, package orders and delivering shipments. Both food processing and fast-food enterprises are turning to service robots as contact-free alternatives, driving increased sales of service robots.
Ditto for the recycling industry: Increasingly overwhelmed with
more plastic from face masks/shields and medical waste, companies have embraced robots as a safer alternative to humans when it comes to recycling.
In the end, we are just at the beginning of a long cycle for service robots. The pandemic has accelerated demand for professional robots and cobots, and pulled forward many key trends that were already in place.
Anticipating future demand, the Global Robotics & Automation Index has benefited from the increased adoption and varied applications of both robotics
and artificial intelligence and has risen 11.6% year-to-date (YTD) against a flat MSCI World benchmark or the S&P 500 3.7% gain YTD (Exhibit 4).