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: and Date: December 20, 2017 Topic: Digital economy and innovation

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.

Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

Working Paper

Market power and artificial intelligence work on online labour markets

In this working paper, the authors investigate three alternative but complementary indicators of market power on one of the largest online labour markets (OLMs) in Europe.

By: Néstor Duch-Brown, Estrella Gomez-Herrera, Frank Mueller-Langer and Songül Tolan Topic: Digital economy and innovation Date: December 16, 2021
Read about event
 

Past Event

Past Event

Future of work and inclusive growth: Digital dialogues

An end of year series of digital discussions on the Future of Work and Inclusive Growth in Europe.

Speakers: Janine Berg, Arturo Franco, Stijn Broecke, Esther Lynch, Mario Mariniello, Laura Nurski, Leah Ruppanner, Nicolas Schmit, Kim Van Sparrentak and Tilman Tacke Topic: Digital economy and innovation, Inclusive growth Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: December 7, 2021
Read article More by this author
 

Blog Post

Inclusive growth

An inclusive European Union must boost gig workers’ rights

A European initiative strengthening rights for gig workers is welcome. A digitised economy should also be inclusive.

By: Mario Mariniello Topic: Digital economy and innovation, Inclusive growth Date: December 7, 2021
Read article
 

Blog Post

Inclusive growth

The triple constraint on artificial-intelligence advancement in Europe

Skills, data and financing shortcomings constrain artificial-intelligence innovation in Europe.

By: Mia Hoffmann and Laura Nurski Topic: Digital economy and innovation, Inclusive growth Date: December 6, 2021
Read about event
 

Past Event

Past Event

China’s medium term outlook: Will innovation save China from becoming old before it becomes rich?

What can China do to stop the deceleration of its economy. Is innovation the solution?

Speakers: Jean-Francois Di Meglio, Alicia García-Herrero and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Digital economy and innovation, Global economy and trade Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: December 1, 2021
Read article More on this topic
 

External Publication

'In Situ' Data Rights

Privacy empowers individuals to control what is gathered and who sees it; portability permits analysis and creates competition. By moving our data to portals that would share more value in return, we might capture more of our data value. After all, that data concerns us.

By: Bertin Martens, Geoffrey Parker, Georgios Petropoulos and Marshall Van Alstyne Topic: Digital economy and innovation Date: December 1, 2021
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

Policy Contribution

What is holding back artificial intelligence adoption in Europe?

To accelerate the roll-out of AI technology across the European Union, policymakers should alleviate constraints to adoption faced by firms, both in the environmental context and in the technological context.

By: Mia Hoffmann and Laura Nurski Topic: Digital economy and innovation Date: November 30, 2021
Read article More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

Technology: a product of unequal power?

The effects of digital technology on work and wages.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Digital economy and innovation, Inclusive growth Date: November 24, 2021
Read article Download PDF
 

Policy Contribution

Inclusive growth

Biometric technologies at work: a proposed use-based taxonomy

Technology may not have a significant negative impact on the quantity of jobs available to humans, but it certainly transforms them, changing how jobs are performed, with implications for workers’ quality of life and for productivity. Hence the focus shifts from a quantitative to a qualitative perspective.

By: Mario Mariniello and Mia Hoffmann Topic: Digital economy and innovation, Inclusive growth Date: November 17, 2021
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

Working Paper

Towards efficient information sharing in network markets

In this paper, we turn our attention to market failure due to information asymmetry between platforms and their users and between competing platforms.

By: Bertin Martens, Geoffrey Parker, Georgios Petropoulos and Marshall Van Alstyne Topic: Digital economy and innovation Date: November 10, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

Phasing out COVID-19 emergency support programmes: effects on productivity and financial stability

How can European countries phase out the COVID-19 support measures without having a negative impact on productivity and financial stability?

Speakers: Eric Bartelsman, Maria Demertzis, Peter Grasmann and Laurie Mayers Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: November 9, 2021
Read about event
 

Past Event

Past Event

Microchips and Europe's strategic autonomy

Per microchips ad strategic autonomy.

Speakers: Piotr Arak, Alicia García-Herrero, Jay Lewis, Stefan Mengel and Niclas Poitiers Topic: Digital economy and innovation, European governance Date: November 2, 2021
Load more posts