The European Cobot Market at the End of the Pandemic

ELITE ROBOT is aiming at the global market and is looking for distributors, sales professionals and technicians. If you are interested, please contact the partners already in Portugal and Italy. The pandemic seems to be nearing its end in Europe - sooner or later, depending on the risk assessment. Time to look back and consider what impact the pandemic has had on robotics.

Economic development


In the first year of the pandemic, i.e. 2020, there was a sharp drop in economic output in all European countries. The main reason for this was the shock, including plant closures as a protective measure and lockdowns. In 2021, the economy recovered, although the previous level has not yet been reached again. The reason was further closures and also the shortage of materials. However, the economy has recovered in the meantime, but is still below the level before the start of the pandemic. This may be due - especially in Germany - to the previously unknown supply bottlenecks. In 2021, various car manufacturers had to close their plants for weeks. The German automaker VW produced as few cars at its main site in Wolfsburg as it last did more than 60 years ago. In the meantime, numerous sectors have been affected by supply bottlenecks. However, the mood is positive in most sectors of the manufacturing industry.

Some of the main industries relevant to robotics are very optimistic. Mechanical engineering is expecting another peak year and should have generated more revenue at the end of 2022 than before Corona. In addition, there is the transformation of the vehicle industry with a correspondingly large number of investments in new production facilities for electromobility including battery production. In return, there is hardly any investment in the production of combustion engines. Nevertheless, there is still some cobot potential here as well. An example of this is the Fiat 500 use case, whose assembly is supported by 11 cobots. This is also because the average age of Fiat workers is steadily increasing, making ergonomics more important. This is likely to be true of almost all automotive plants in Europe except one.

The development of the gross domestic product of important countries in Europe shows that countries with a particularly severe slump in 2020 grew more strongly in 2021 than those with a more moderate slump. Optimism for 2022 appears to be more important: A positive growth expectation is significant for two reasons: On the one hand, rising revenues make it easier to implement price increases, so that profits then also rise, and even more so, a positive assessment can be cited as the most important prerequisite for investment. The German state bank KfW published a survey on the investment behavior of small and medium-sized enterprises in October 2021. 62% of the companies then expand their investments if the sales expectation for their own company is positive. Conversely, 43% of companies reduce their investments when revenues are falling.

China - ELITE ROBOTS

After his re-election, our Federal President Steinmeier said that the West had come through the pandemic best. Now he probably did not think about China. Germany more than 200,000, the USA (after all, four times more inhabitants, often overweight) had about 1 million dead.

While Europe was paralyzed for a while, normality prevailed in China for the most part. The up-and-coming cobot manufacturer ELITE ROBOT, a partner in this article, even built a new large manufacturing facility and closed another round of financing.
https://youtu.be/jKobnP9TiCk

Has consumer behavior changed as a result of the pandemic?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been "winner" and "loser" industries. The "winners" just in 2020 included all industries that promote protection and/ or entertainment of the individual. These included leisure sectors such as two-wheelers (bicycles, also with electricity as well as motorcycles), mobile homes and also consumer electronics. Construction suppliers were also among the winners. During the lockdown, do-it-yourselfers became active. On the other hand, gastronomy and culture lost out, suffering and still suffering from the often strict regulations imposed by the state. Sometimes they were closed completely, then they were only allowed to serve vaccinated people. Culture still suffers from regional limitations. The restaurant industry was and still is financially compensated, but is likely to suffer a lasting exodus of its staff.

The pandemic has also shown that companies are unlikely to change their operations even in the face of severe staff shortages and extreme capacity constraints: Corona test labs in particular were very busy, but did not automate.

Do classic payback calculations still apply?

One thing is clear about cobots: their low price is still unknown to many. Many smaller entrepreneurs think that a cobot, including programming and accessories, costs more like €200,000. More educational work is needed here. However, even many small businesses, when presented with the true price of cobots, do not immediately purchase a robot. They often take a long time to make a decision. This is especially true if the cobot changes existing processes. Because if something doesn't work then, they have a big problem. Many prefer the safe status quo.

How has the European cobot market developed?

Significant for robotics was the cancellation of almost all trade fairs and often the dates of visits. Many entrepreneurs see a cobot for the first time at a trade fair beforehand. This opportunity for often casual viewing was eliminated. Companies rarely buy cobots online or on the phone. They first want to meet their contacts and learn more about robotics. To do this, they want assurance that there is a custom solution that is just right for them. For the most part, this was not possible in 2020. Regional network meetings at which entrepreneurs exchange information with each other were also not possible. After the first wave, which lasted until the end of May, the second wave began in October 2020. This was associated with a ban on visits to companies and ultimately a lack of willingness to make new contacts. On the other hand, sales employees of large robotics companies complained that they were not allowed to travel. Customer appointments were only approved by headquarters with good reasoning. Trade shows were practically non-existent until today, at best virtual. However, the usefulness of virtual trade shows was very limited. In China, trade fairs could take place as usual. However, travel from abroad was hardly possible.

Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, sales of robotics plummeted massively. From the 3rd quarter of 2020, the development improved significantly and since then new sales records have been achieved. Since its market share in Europe is unlikely to have changed much, its development is exemplary for the cobot industry. In relative terms, the importance of cobots stagnated worldwide in 2020.

Development in Great Britain

At the start of the pandemic, Universal Robots' then-new Scottish distributor, SP Automation & Robotics, announced plans to sell £1 million worth of cobots in the first year of working together. For a country with a population of only 5.5 million, this is a considerable sum. Since the company has been busy uploading cobot videos over the past two years, it should have been quite successful. This shows that an established company can launch a new product even in more difficult circumstances.

WMH Transmissions, the Universal Robots dealer with the largest showroom in the UK, earns less than €6 million. The preliminary balance sheet figures show a recently stagnating development.

Overall, the development in the UK thus appears to have been stable. In contrast to Germany, however, there seems to be less competition in the UK. The companies founded in Germany, Franka Emika, Yuanda, Neura Robotics, Agile Robots or RobCo, are almost unknown. And startups like Kassow Robots still seem to have a weak base in the UK.

Portugal: Country with considerable market share of ELITE ROBOTS

Portugal seems to be a special country for the robotics and cobot industry. On the one hand, only 10 million people live in the country - and then with their own language. On the other hand, there are many interesting manufacturing companies in Portugal, especially in electronics and precision mechanics.

Italy: Automationware invested heavily in cobots

Automation specialist Automationware (Venice) did not go into shock during the pandemic but invested in new partnerships. First it became a partner of ELITE ROBOTS, the partner of this article, and most recently of Geek+. In the video, Automationware presents the Cobot as a proprietary development, but I assume it is an ELITE ROBOT.

Globalized companies had an advantage
Germany is home to many accessory companies in addition to some robot manufacturers. Schunk, Zimmer, Sensopart and many more are now compatible with various Chinese brands. Since ELITE ROBOT is configured like Universal Robots out of the box, some manufacturers were able to benefit from the more stable Chinese market without conversion.

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