Blog Post

The growing presence of robots in EU industries

While it is always tempting to try to predict future patterns in the automation of European industries, it is also insightful to assess key dimensions of their robotisation so far, starting from the pre-AI era. This article presents evidence on the use of industrial robots by European industries from 1993 and onwards.

By: Date: December 20, 2017 Topic: Innovation & Competition Policy

The author is grateful to Nicolas Moës for its research assistance.

When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, the mass arrival of intelligent and efficient robots and their impact on labour (see Petropoulos, 2017) and production has been frequently discussed and debated. While it is always tempting to try to predict future patterns in the automation of European industries, it is also insightful to assess key dimensions of their robotisation so far, starting from the pre-AI era. This article presents evidence on the use of industrial robots by European industries from 1993 and onwards.  

An industrial robot is defined as “an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes, which can be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications” (International Federation of Robotics, 2016). Following this definition, a classification test would have required a positive answer to the following three questions:

  1. Does it have multiple purposes?
  2. Can it be reprogrammed to perform another task?
  3. Can it perform its tasks without requiring human control?

While neither our coffee machine nor the elevator at our home building pass this classification test, fully autonomous machines that do not need a human operator and can be programmed to perform several manual tasks – such as welding, painting, assembling, handling materials, or packaging – are classified as industrial robots. The same applies for a robot used in car production that satisfies these criteria.

The number of industrial robots used in global production is increasing with a significant upward trend, as illustrated by the statistics collected by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR):

More than 1 million robots are located in the Asian markets (including China), with China having 33.7% of them. Moreover, the annual growth rate in the number of industrial robots is particularly high in China, to the extent that it is expected to surpass that of the EU28 by the end of 2017. The robotisation of the Chinese industries had a peak in the previous decade, with a mass introduction of robots in production. That was not the case for the EU, US and Japan, where the robotisation started much earlier and evolved in a much smoother way.

In 2017 robot installations are estimated to increase by 21% in the Asia-Australia region. Robot supplies in the Americas will surge by 16% and in Europe by 8%.

Controlling for the working population in each region, and using as our measure the density of robots (i.e. the number of industrial robots per thousand workers) we observe that EU28 is the first in the use of robots in industrial production, with 1.9 robots per thousand workers in 2016:

The prevalence within the EU28 can be attributed to the region’s strong automobile branch, where more than 170,000 robots take part in the production process:

Nevertheless, when we take into account the recent trends, we observe that the intensity of robotisation has been shifting beyond automobile, in sectors that are less “mature” in being automated – such as mining and quarrying, other manufacturing branches and electricity supply:

Looking at the use of industrial robots across European countries, countries with a strong automobile presence – for example, Germany, Italy and Sweden – are the champions:

But, interestingly, it is Romania, Lithuania and Slovakia, along with Estonia and Portugal, that exhibited the highest growth in 2016 in the use of industrial robots, suggesting their willigness to move towards more efficient production lines even if they do not have a significant precense in the production of automobiles:

Looking ahead, the density of robots is expected to rise. Industry 4.0 is going to play an increasingly important role in global manufacturing. With the removal of obstacles like system complexities and data incompatibility, manufacturers could potentially integrate robots into their networks of machines and systems, expanding the robot usage and their corresponding density. Moreover, with a rapidly growing market for cloud robotics, data from one robot can be compared to data from other robots in the same or different locations (see IFR press release). This, combined with the advancement of AI algorithmic systems and machine (deep) learning techniques will allow the optimisation of parameters of the robots’ functions, making them more competent and efficient.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

View comments
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Oct
29
08:30

Bank resolution: its impact in the EU

Closed-door workshop on various aspects of bank resolution.

Speakers: Jon Cunliffe, Martin J. Gruenberg and Elke König Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Modernising European Competition Policy: A Brief Review of Member States’ Proposals

French, German and Polish governments have jointly proposed options for modernising EU competition policy. The debate to recalibrate European competition rules was already well underway. So, it is not surprising that proposals are consistent with other statements made by France and Germany. Yet, proposals do not address current issues weighing on the international competition community, such as conglomerate effects theory or algorithmic collusion.

By: Mathew Heim Topic: Innovation & Competition Policy Date: July 24, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Opinion

EU policy recommendations: A stronger legal framework is not enough to foster national compliance

In 2011, the EU introduced stricter rules to monitor the implementation of country-specific policy recommendations. Using a new dataset, this column investigates whether these new laws have increased national compliance. There is no evidence that these stricter processes matter for implementation rates, whereas macroeconomic fundamentals and market pressure are important determinants of implementation progress. These results suggest ways to improve the effectiveness of European policy coordination that go beyond stronger legal processes.

By: Konstantinos Efstathiou and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: July 23, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

The EU needs a bold climate strategy

Scientists report that global temperature increases must be limited to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. With global greenhouse gas emissions continuing to increase and rising temperatures driving up the frequency of extreme weather events, the world needs a greater commitment to climate policy.

By: Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Energy & Climate Date: July 19, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Libra: possible risks in Facebook's pursuit of a 'stablecoin'

Facebook’s new cryptocurrency has the potential to be both widely accessible and attractive to those countries that do not have strong sovereign currencies. So far regulators have treated such currencies as a minor risk to national economics, but the Libra could change everything.

By: Maria Demertzis and Jan Mazza Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: July 17, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

How should the relationship between competition policy and industrial policy evolve in the European Union?

Competition policy aims to ensure that market practices and strategies do not reduce consumer welfare. Industrial policy, meanwhile, aims at securing framework conditions that are favourable to industrial competitiveness, and deals with (sector-specific) production rules as well as the direction of public funds and tax measures. But, how should competition policy and industrial policy interact? Is industrial policy contradicting the aims of competition policy by promoting specific industrial interests?

By: Georgios Petropoulos Topic: Innovation & Competition Policy Date: July 15, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

The 4th industrial revolution: opportunities and challenges for Europe and China

What is the current status of EU-China relations concerning innovation, and what might their future look like?

Speakers: Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Chen Dongxiao, Patrick Child, Eric Cornuel, Maria Demertzis, Ding Yuan, Luigi Gambardella, Jiang Jianqing, Frank Kirchner, Pascal Lamy, Li Mingjun, Gwenn Sonck, Gerard Van Schaik, Reinhilde Veugelers, Wang Hongjian, Guntram B. Wolff, Xu Bin, Zhang Hongjun and Zhou Snow Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: July 12, 2019
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

Blueprint

Digitalisation and European welfare states

EU policymakers must find answers to pressing questions: if technology has a negative impact on labour income, how will the welfare state be funded? How can workers’ welfare rights be adequately secured? A team of Bruegel scholars, with the support of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, has taken on these questions.

By: Georgios Petropoulos, J. Scott Marcus, Nicolas Moës and Enrico Bergamini Topic: Innovation & Competition Policy Date: July 9, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Tech-enabled payment processes: policy implications of new developments

What challenges does a shift towards new payment processes imply for EU financial services policy?

Speakers: Rebecca Christie, Etienne Goosse, Chirag Patel, Jörn-Jakob Röber, Johannes Vermeire and Nicolas Véron Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: June 25, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

What reforms for Europe's Monetary Union: a view from Spain

How is a successful European Monetary Union still possible in today's ever-shifting political landscape? What reforms need to occur in order to guarantee success of cohesive policies?

Speakers: Fernando Fernández, José Carlos García de Quevedo, Gabriele Giudice, Inês Goncalves Raposo, Javier Méndez Llera and Isabel Riaño Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: June 19, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Past, present, and future EU trade policy: a conversation with Commissioner Malmström

What was trade policy during the last European Commission? What will be the future of European trade under the next Commission?

Speakers: Cecilia Malmström, André Sapir and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: June 13, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

EU-LAC Economic Forum 2019: New perspectives in turbulent times

The third edition of the EU-LAC Economic Forum.

Speakers: Diego Acosta Arcarazo, Ignacio Corlazzoli, Maria Demertzis, Mauricio Escanero Figueroa, Alicia García-Herrero, Carmen González Enríquez, Bert Hoffmann, Edita Hrdá, Matthias Jorgensen, Juan Jung, Tobias Lenz, Carlos Malamud, J. Scott Marcus, Elena Pisonero, Belén Romana and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: June 11, 2019
Load more posts