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South Korea is known as the world leader in robot utilization for the manufacturing industry. The country also has the second largest market for industrial robots and is a key player in the service robot sector. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution fast approaching, robot technology along with technology related to artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are receiving the spotlight. As such, the Korean government aims to lead this revolution with the help of the booming robot industry. In this article, the status of Korean robot industry along with the Korean government’s robot policies will be discussed. After that, the prospects of Korean robot industry will be assessed with consideration of new trends in robotics.
The Global Robot Industry
According to the IFR World Robotics Report 2016, the global robot market grew 9.7 percent to USD 17.9 billion, an increase of 13 percent over the last six years. Industrial robots 1 still dominated the market whereas personal service robots showed a steep growth rate and are expected to lead the development of the robot industry. The personal service robot market stood at USD 2.22 billion, an increase of 3.8 percent, while the professional service robot market hit USD 4.6 billion, growing by 13.8 percent.
At the 2017 RobotWorld 2 , a remarkable trend of future industrial robots was featured at the collaborative robot pavilion. It is predicted that collaborative robots will lead the future industrial robot market by being easy-to-use, cost effective and safe. IFR also points out that the rise of the one person family and the dual income family, along with an ageing society, will give birth to the rise of the personal service robot market in the coming years. Professional service robots such as medical robots, logistics mobile robots and military robots are driving the market. IFR predicts the market of medical robots and logistics robots will increase sharply in five years.
The Korean Robot Industry
To more closely examine the Korean robot industry, two different sets of data were referred to in this article—the IFR World Robot Statistics Report 2016 and the Annual Robot Statistics Survey 2016 of KAR.
According to the IFR report, Korea was the world’s second-largest market for industrial robots. In 2015, 38,285 new robots were installed in Korea, 55 percent higher than in 2014. The growth rate from 2010 and 2015 amounted to +10 percent. As for production, 31,940 units were produced, and this was 19 percent higher than the amount in 2014. In total, this amounted to about 12 percent of the global robot production. Furthermore, Korea was leading in the robot density category (the number of industrial robots per 10,000 workers in the manufacturing industry).
No. of multipurpose industrial robots (all types)
per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry
Source: World Robot Density (IFR 2016)
According to the Annual Robot Statistics Survey by KAR, there are about 2,000 companies specializing in industrial robots, service robots, and robot parts and components in Korea. 90 percent of the companies are small and medium-enterprises (SMEs) and their production volume stand at less than USD 1 million. Meanwhile, the Korean robot market in 2015 amounted to KRW 4.17 trillion (USD 368 million), an 11.9 percent increase compared to 2014.
By category, the Korean personal service robot market rose 1.2 percent of KRW 345 billion (USD 304 million) from 340 billion. Educational robots and personal household robots led the market. As for the professional service robot market, its total sales volume was KRW 283 billion (USD 250 million), a 75.2 rise compared to 2014. In this category, medical and societal safety robots were the major products that were sold.
Meanwhile, the industrial robot market grew KRW 2.58 trillion (USD 227 million) recording a 4.7 percent rise from 2014.
Growth rate of robots by category
|Personal service robots||312,484||340,493||344,650||1.2|
|Professional service robots||159,926||161,527||282,990||75.2|
|Robot parts and components||672,475||798,341||1,006,074||26|
Source: Annual Robot Industry Statistics Survey (KAR, 2016)
The market share of manufacturing robots amounted to 61 percent, with service robots standing at 15 percent and robot parts making up 24 percent of market share. In regards to growth rates, manufacturing robots grew 3.3 percent while service robots grew by 23 percent. More notably, professional service robots such as medical robots and robots for military use grew by an astonishing 78 percent. What is also notable is that robot parts such as reducers, motion controllers, sensors and cables grew by 43.6 percent. In 2015, the Korean robot market (production basis) increased by 17 percent to KRW 4 trillion (USD 3.52 billion) from the previous year (KRW 3.4 trillion in 2014). As for industrial robots, production increased 4.7 percent from the previous year to KRW 2.58 trillion.
A recent report by the Ministry of Science and ICT shows that Korea lags slightly behind in robot technology compared to developed countries like the United States and Japan. According to the report, Korea is 4.2 years behind the United States and 1.2 years behind Japan. The country is, however, three years ahead of China.
Korean Government Policies to Promote Robotics Industry
In a bid to support the growth of robotics companies here in Korea, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) announced its ‘5-Year Plan of Robot Industry Development’ in November 2016, which seeks to invest KRW 500 billion (USD 440 million) to 2022. The main policy directions are to expand public demand and strengthen the suppliers’ capacity. The ministry plans to increase demand through the use of more service robots in the public sector and the development of smart factories.
The ministry plans to build state-of-the–art manufacturing robots in connection with smart factories. To expand the service robot market, it aims to start 80 pilot projects in the fields of medicine, rehabilitation and social safety.
As for strengthening the capacity of robot suppliers, the government will build 10 to 15 advanced robot commercialization research centers nationwide, as well as AI/ICT convergence centers and humanoid robot research centers.
MOTIE aims to build up high-quality components of reducers, sensors, controllers and motors by reducing reliance on global robot parts suppliers. The budget for this project amounts to KRW 350 billion (USD 310 million).
The ministry will also strengthen overseas marketing bases, which will promote welding robots, rehabilitation robots, robots for road cleaning and so on. For overseas market expansion, it is considering dispatching trade missions at targeted overseas areas. In addition, the government will promote joint R&D projects with leading countries in robot technology. On this note, in 2016, Korea and the United States signed an MOU to cooperate in the fields of disaster response robotics by organizing robot workshops and R&D projects.
New Trends in Korean Robotics and Prospects
During the last decade, Korea has been more focused on service robotics. Although Korea has acquired strong core technology, service robots have so far not been able to gather a sizable market. As a result, the Korean government and the private sector are now focusing on potentially promising fields such as collaborative robots and surgical robots. Recently, two major Korean companies, Hanwha Techwin and Doosan Robotics, shook the robot industry by unveiling their state-of-the-art collaborative robots at the RobotWorld exhibition. Collaborative robots were selected as one of the five promising robot fields 3 based on growth potential and domestic demand by the Korean government. As Market & Market (2016) predicts, the global collaborative robot market is expected to reach KRW 3.6 trillion (USD 3.1 billion) by 2022.
Due to population ageing, the medical robot market is expected to be increasingly promising in the years ahead. As for surgical robots, companies like Koh Young Technology and Meere Company are expected to take the lead in the global surgical robot market. Meanwhile, traditional industrial robot companies like Hyundai Robotics, Robostar and TES will most likely continue to do well since OLED and semiconductor business have a future positive outlook.
In the personal service robot market, Samsung, LG and Yujin Robot are on the right track, thanks to the growing vacuum cleaning market, while ROBOTIS and RoboRobo are showing steadfast growth in the educational robot market.
Korea is one of the world’s top five leaders in the robot industry and is largely recognized for its technological prowess. Case in point, the country’s very own walking humanoid robot called HUBO won the DARPA Robotics Challenge in 2015, further shedding international spotlight on Korea’s robot industry. Although the country does not have industrial robot giants like ABB, Fanuc, Yaskawa or KUKA, Korea’s innovative technology and entrepreneurial spirit will continue to shape the international market.
By Johnny Kim
Director, Korea Association of Robot Industry / email@example.com
1. International Federation of Robotics (IFR) categorizes the robot industry into two major categories: industrial robots and service robots. Industrial robots are “automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes” (ISO 8373), while service robots are categorized into personal service robots and professional service robots. The personal service robots include robots for domestic tasks, entertainment robot, elderly and handicapped assistance. Professional service robots include medical robots, field robotics, military robots.
2. RobotWorld is one of the global leading robot exhibitions organized by the Korea Association of Robot Industry (KAR) in Korea. During this event (Sept. 13-16, 2017), a collaborative robot pavilion was constructed by Korea’s leading manufacturers such as Doosan Robotics, Hanwha Techwin and world-class collaborative robot manufacturers like Universal Robots, Rethink Robotics and dozens more overseas and Korean companies.
3. In November, 2016, MOTIE designated five promising products categories based on growth potential and domestic demand. They are collaborative/dual-arm robots, medical/rehabilitation robots, autonomous transport robots, personal service robots and societal security robots.