Gaining Insight into Future Trends in the Robotics Industry from the 23rd China International Industry Fair

October 9, 2023

Exploring the Diversification, Intelligence, and Ecological Aspects of the Robotics Industry

 

Robots are no longer limited to tasks such as lifting, polishing, and welding; they are now also involved in vending, puzzle-solving, and even gardening. During the 23rd China International Industry Fair held in Shanghai recently, the robot exhibition area, spanning over 50,000 square meters, became one of the largest platforms globally, with the highest participation of industrial robot companies across the entire industry chain. Apart from showcasing impressive technical skills, this event also highlighted the emerging trends of diversification, intelligence, and ecological sustainability within the robotics sector.

 

Moving beyond traditional manufacturing, robots are finding diverse applications in various industries. The Industrial Fair, a national-level event in China's industrial sector, featured an impressive robot exhibition zone that brought together more than 350 domestic and international companies from the entire robotics industry chain. Over 300 new robot technologies, products, and applications were unveiled.

 

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In the past, robots were primarily associated with tasks like lifting and painting, which were considered physically demanding. With continuous advancements in robot technology, their applications have diversified significantly. Today, robots are not only improving efficiency in traditional industries such as automotive, chemicals, and electronics but also empowering emerging sectors like electric vehicles, photovoltaics, and biopharmaceuticals.

 

As electric vehicles become increasingly common, fast charging has become a necessity. At the Industrial Fair, the local robot brand JAKA introduced a new energy vehicle charging robot. This robot, upon sensing a parked vehicle, automatically approaches it, retrieves the charging cable, and plugs it into the vehicle's charging port. By accurately identifying and planning its path, the robot can complete the entire electric vehicle charging process and has already been deployed in some charging stations.

 

"More than just robots, they represent endless possibilities" – Swiss industrial giant ABB unveiled a range of innovative robot products and solutions at its nearly 800-square-meter robot exhibition booth. Among them was an industrial education robot. This robot can carry a load of 3.5 kilograms, occupies 10% less space, and weighs 20% less than its predecessor. Students using this robot will learn how to deploy robot automation in various fields and applications.

Robots are not limited to the manufacturing sector; they are also making significant strides in the service industry. At the Industrial Fair, robots demonstrated their skills in making coffee, solving puzzles, and carving eggs. A local robot brand, Feixi, showcased an intelligent physical therapy solution based on adaptive robots. This product combines advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, 3D vision, and intelligent sensing to simulate manual pressure massage and therapy on the human body's soft tissues.

 

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According to the "Robot+" Application Action Plan issued earlier this year by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and 16 other government departments, China aims to double its robot density in the manufacturing industry by 2025 compared to 2020. The depth and breadth of applications in the service and special-purpose robot industries are also expected to significantly increase, enhancing robots' ability to drive high-quality economic and social development.

Working alongside humans, robots are becoming increasingly intelligent. In recent years, the rapid development of technologies like artificial intelligence has opened up new possibilities for the robotics industry. Visitors to the robot exhibition area at the Industrial Fair can observe that robots are becoming smarter and more intelligent.

 

Collaborative robots, known as cobots, are a major trend in the robotics industry. The Industrial Fair featured hundreds of collaborative robots. Unlike traditional industrial robots, which are often large and operate within safety cages, cobots are more flexible and safe, enabling them to work alongside humans. They are suitable for small-batch, diverse, and flexible production requirements.

 

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At ABB's booth, collaborative robots for laboratory tasks, such as dispensing, mixing, and pipetting, were on display, working in collaboration with researchers. "The biopharmaceutical industry primarily involves small workstations, and these places require automation with a lot of human-machine interaction scenarios. Collaborative robots are well-suited for such environments," said Wang Tong, Head of Market and Sales for ABB Robotics Business in China.

 

Approaching a collaborative robot at JAKA's booth, the journalist noticed a reduction in its movement speed. When attempting to touch the robot, it automatically stopped. "This is the visual protective camera at work, which provides flexible protection zones and supports multi-level protection to ensure safer human-robot collaboration."

 

It was revealed that JAKA, to enhance robots' perception and decision-making capabilities, introduced a self-developed 2.5D visual positioning technology at the Industrial Fair. This technology enables dynamic spatial posture estimation and achieves precision as high as 0.2 millimeters in precise positioning mode.

 

In recent years, China's robotics industry has experienced robust growth. Statistics indicate that in 2022, the revenue of China's robotics industry exceeded 170 billion yuan, with rapid growth in the production of industrial, service, and special-purpose robots. In the same year, China's industrial robot installation accounted for over 50% of the global share, firmly establishing itself as the world's largest market.

 

Key components such as controllers, servo motors, and reducers were previously bottlenecks in the development of domestic robots. In the past, these critical components were mainly produced by European and Japanese companies. At this year's Industrial Fair, numerous domestic supply chain companies showcased their latest achievements, indicating the increasing maturity of the robotics industry ecosystem.

 

For instance, the joint booth of Midea and KUKA at this year's Industrial Fair featured a high-precision harmonic reducer product. According to Chen Shixing, a representative from Midea, they began research and development on harmonic reducers in 2019 and finally achieved mass production in 2022. This reducer targets fields with extremely high precision requirements, such as aerospace and semiconductor production.

 

It is foreseeable that the future development of the robotics industry will involve deep integration, continuous improvement of the industry chain, and a significant push toward intelligent manufacturing.