While fears of recession, trade frictions and Brexit seem to be slowing down the economy in Europe, for the industrial robot market the overall picture stays bright. In some parts of Europe a strong growth trend is continuing. Shinichi Tanzawa, President & CEO of the FANUC Europe Corporation says: “In the first half of our current fiscal year our order volume in all Europe rose by a double digit percentage number and we expect the expansion to continue although it might slow down a bit.”
FANUC is one of the leading companies in factory automation, having installed more than 550,000 robots, 4 million CNC controllers and 19 million servo motors worldwide. The company has 263 locations serving 108 countries and employs more than 7000 people. In Europe FANUC has 22 entities with around 1400 employees.
According to a recent report by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) the number of industrial robots shipped into the European market might have gone up by 7 per cent in 2018. For the years 2019 to 2021 the IFR predicts an average annual growth rate of 10 per cent. While at least in the short term a double-digit growth has recently become more uncertain because of fears about a slowing down in the world economy, the overall trend for industrial robots stays positive.
Tanzawa says: “In the past couple of years the Industrial Robot market in Europe has been growing at a very high speed. It is only natural that we might now see a short term consolidation in some regions.” Still the main drivers of automation are intact; a lack of skilled workers, an increase of labour costs and the development of ever more capable industrial robots.
Among the most promising trends throughout the European continent are collaborative robots (Cobots). While big international manufacturers have already been experimenting for some years with collaborative robots in their production, now the technology becomes more widespread within different industries. Tanzawa says: “We increasingly see more demand coming from small and mid-size companies, even from companies who have not been using robots in their production in the past.”
While a handful of robot makers are competing in the market of Cobots, FANUC prides itself of having the widest and most reliable range of collaborative robot models on offer – ranging from the small CR-4iA that can handle loads of up to 4kg and for example be used for small electrical parts transfer and assembly up to the CR-35iA that can lift loads of up to 35kg and assist workers in heavy lifting tasks without the need of special safety equipment like protective fences. Tanzawa explains: “The interest in collaborative robots is strong all over Europe.”
FANUC itself takes pride in owning one of the most automated production sites in the world. The company uses robots for various tasks at its Headquarters in Japan. Automation has helped the company to achieve a high efficiency and grow alongside with its customers in the manufacturing industry all over the world. Tanzawa says: “We expect robotisation to support the growth of the European economies further.”
But while automation has helped to partly cover the shortage of skilled workers, now that lack of specialists is starting to hold back the process of automation itself. Tanzawa notes: “In most European countries that we cover we see a lack of robot programmers and engineers. That is hampering companies from automating their production sites at the pace they would like to.”
FANUC and WorldSkills
To overcome this shortage and to help the economies in Europe grow by improving the efficiency of production, education in schools and universities will play a big role. To help promote these important skills, FANUC has embarked on a Global Partnership with WorldSkills. WorldSkills is an international skills competition organisation that has been promoting the qualification of skilled workers for decades. Together the two partners are planning to hold an international championship on robot programming in the Russian city of Kazan in August 2019.
WorldSkills has been committed to the recognition of professional skills since 1947. Through skills competitions in 80 Member countries and regions, as well as through the world championships of skills, WorldSkills promotes skills excellence around the globe. WorldSkills builds confidence in young people, empowers communities, and helps to fuel economies through skills development.
The next WorldSkills Competition will be held in the Russian city of Kazan in 2019. For the first time Kazan will feature an international competition in the discipline of robot programming. While this championship is a pilot, FANUC and WorldSkills hope to establish it as a regular international competition in the future. In total, Kazan is expected to attract participants from around 60 countries and regions as well as 250,000 spectators at all venues.
Mr Tanzawa continues: “FANUC has more than 40 years of experience in developing industrial robots. We are very excited to be a WorldSkills Global Partner and to give young people an opportunity to learn more about robot programming”. The company has installed more than 550,000 robots in factories worldwide, and FANUC itself has established training centres at many of its worldwide facilities. There FANUC offers training for customer employees in the operation and programming of industrial robots. Tanzawa adds: “We hope that participants in the WorldSkills competition will be able to use their knowledge to improve their career opportunities.”
Alexander Amiri, Director of Sponsorship and Partnership at WorldSkills says: “FANUC demonstrates that the future of professional skills is shaped by innovation and automation. FANUC’s involvement as a WorldSkills Global Partner helps young people around the world to develop the skills and pioneering spirit that are needed to respond to changes in production”.
WorldSkills and FANUC have already worked together successfully in the past on the national level. In France, for example, the two partners have organised national industrial robot competitions.