Mobile robotics for logistics and delivery
Due to rising labor costs and labor shortages, coupled with the surge in e-commerce and logistics demands, the mobile robotics market is rapidly expanding. IDTechEx's forecast indicates that the annual market size for mobile robotics in logistics and delivery is set to approach US$150 billion, marked by a robust double-digit compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the next two decades. Notably, investment in mobile robotics has surged significantly in recent years. For example, cumulative funding for various mobile robotics segments, encompassing mobile picking, intralogistics material transport, and last-mile delivery robots, has soared 261-fold from 2015 to 2022. This exponential growth underscores strong market demand and rapid industry expansion.
Depending on the task, IDTechEx has observed varying growth rates among different types of mobile robots. Currently, intralogistics maintains its position as the largest application for mobile robots, followed by last-mile delivery and mobile picking; this trend is likely to persist in the medium-term future.
Given well-controlled indoor environments and the prevalence of indoor inventories, intralogistics boasts the highest adoption of mobile robots as of 2023. With a clear value proposition for labor-free goods transportation, mobile robots have found a strong footing in warehouses. Among these, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) have gained more traction than autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) due to their simpler design. AGVs rely heavily on infrastructure like tapes, grids, and QR codes for navigation, enhancing positioning accuracy but at the cost of higher expenses and reduced long-term operational flexibility - a crucial factor for warehouse robots. However, the advancement of navigation sensors like LiDAR and cameras is poised to propel AMR adoption around the late 2020s. IDTechEx predicts that the annual market size of AMRs for intralogistics could experience a 52-fold increase by 2044 compared to 2023.
Market Share of AGVs and AMRs in Intralogistics: 2023 Versus 2044. Source: IDTechEx
Regarding last-mile delivery robots, IDTechEx anticipates a significant expansion in market size, projected to achieve a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 30.7% from 2023 to 2044. Ground-based vehicles, encompassing delivery vehicles and sidewalk robots, are poised to witness a more rapid growth compared to aerial drones, primarily due to less stringent regulations. Comprehensive insights into the total market size, regulations, key components, and opportunities, can be found in IDTechEx's research report "Mobile Robotics in Logistics, Warehousing and Delivery 2024-2044."
Service robotics encompasses a wide array of applications, including underwater robots, cleaning robots, logistics robots, social robots, agricultural robots, and kitchen/restaurant robots. The global service robot market is anticipated to surpass US$70 billion by 2032. However, adoption and growth rates will considerably fluctuate based on the application and technical complexity. The chart below outlines the technical complexity and adoption pace across various service robot categories.
Technical Difficulty Versus Market Demand for Different Service Robots. Source: IDTechEx
Service robot costs can vary significantly, ranging from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, depending on applications and configurations. In the report "Service Robots 2022-2032: Technologies, Players & Markets", IDTechEx predicts logistics and cleaning robots to dominate the market share over the forthcoming decade for two main reasons:
- Compared with other applications (e.g., underwater robots, social robots, etc.), which typically work in complicated and unpredictable environments, cleaning and logistics robots are designed to work in relatively well-controlled environments (e.g., warehouses, airports, empty shopping malls, etc.). The low-difficulty situation enhances their technical robustness and makes them easier for customers to adopt.
- Logistics robots and cleaning robots have big potential markets. Logistics robots can be used for tasks such as delivering parcels and transporting groceries. Cleaning robots can be used for domestic cleaning and professional cleaning. Among all the applications of service robots, these two are expected to have the largest adoption because of the large market demand and relatively low technical difficulty.
Collaborative robots (Cobots) are a subset of industrial robots, distinct in their ability to work side by side with human operators without the need for protective cages. Unlike traditional heavy-duty industrial robots, which are physically separated from human presence, cobots are designed for direct collaboration. Significant announcements from entities like the European Commission and prominent automotive manufacturers like Audi and Nissan indicate their intentions to reintegrate humans into factory settings by around 2025 or 2030. These declarations are expected to drive cobot adoption. Considering the timeline of these announcements, IDTechEx foresees a surge in cobot uptake around the late 2020s, led by the automotive industry.
In line with this trend, IDTechEx projects the annual cobot market size to reach approximately US$109 billion by 2043, with approximately 4.07 million installations annually. This trend opens opportunities for key users and component suppliers. With the growing need for enhanced force control, IDTechEx has observed a rising demand for an increasing number of sensors, including cameras, force/torque sensors, current sensors/circuits, and tactile sensors. For more details on the market size, opportunities, and technology analysis, please refer to IDTechEx's research report "Collaborative Robots (Cobots) 2023-2043: Technologies, Players & Markets".
Lower costs: ideal for SMEs wishing to integrate automation?
In contrast to industrial robots, cobots exhibit notably reduced costs, usually ranging from US$10,000 to US$50,000, subject to factors such as volume, configurations, and customer relations. This affordability lowers the entry bar for cobots to be adopted by the market. Nevertheless, a key hurdle lies in the challenge faced by SME owners in assessing the payback period. Some companies have incorporated cobots into their operations, only to discover later that they encountered difficulties in achieving desired employee reduction outcomes. IDTechEx's report has evaluated the payback time with many use cases of adopting cobots to provide insight to potential cobot users.
Scattered market full of small companies with limited presence of large companies
Despite its rapid expansion, cobotics remains in its early stages as of 2023. A few market leaders, including Universal Robots, TechMan Robot, and Elite Robots, have emerged. However, when benchmarking specifications of commercialized robots, IDTechEx finds limited technical distinctions such as maximum payloads and reach. Notably, prominent robot manufacturers like ABB, KUKA, and Fanuc do not have a robust cobot market presence. While these companies offer their own cobots, IDTechEx suggests that their focus remains elsewhere, driven by the relatively slim profits and low pricing associated with cobots in contrast to their other business segments. Nonetheless, with growing popularity, IDTechEx observes that some of these major corporations are considering co-branding or acquiring leading small cobot manufacturers. For instance, Kawasaki recently (in 2023) collaborated with Neura Robotics to develop its cobot offering.
Key sensors and components in robots
Throughout this article, you have likely noticed the recurrent emphasis on sensors. Indeed, sensors play a significant role in robotic systems. Depending on the application, a diverse range of sensors is often required, leading to substantial functional overlap. For instance, both LiDARs and cameras find utility in navigation, localization, and object detection. With the flourishing robot market and rising demand for automation, sensors are poised for rapid growth, particularly those dedicated to navigation and object detection. As sensors are needed for almost all types of robots, the market size of sensors is expecting fast growth. It will exceed US$80 billion by 2043, so even a small piece of such a large cake represents significant market opportunities. More details on market size by sensor type and commercial opportunities can be found in IDTechEx's latest report on "Sensors for Robotics 2023-2043: Technologies, Markets, and Forecasts".
Comparison of response time versus max. sensing range of collision detection and proximity sensors. Source: IDTechEx
Automated 3D printing - next driver for additive manufacturing
Additive manufacturing (AM) is seeing maturation across the entire supply chain, from the 3D printers themselves to the materials, scanners, post-processing systems, software, workflow management systems, and more; this is true across the numerous materials verticals of AM that IDTechEx covers, including Metal Additive Manufacturing and Polymer Additive Manufacturing.
This industry-wide movement comes through the increased awareness that the entire 3D printing workflow needs optimization and incremental improvement to become something more than a niche manufacturing technique. Advancing automation within the AM process acts as a key enabler of growth in 3D printing. While 3D printers are inherently automated, almost all the other aspects of 3D printing production, from part design to print preparation, support removal to quality assurance, are often disconnected from each other and labor intensive, limiting AM's productivity and its potential in higher volume applications.
In recognition of these difficulties, the industry is looking to see how every step can be better integrated and automated to create a well-connected production environment. This was seen clearly in the product showcases at Formnext and RAPID+TCT; any attendee walking the exhibition floors could find post-processing machines capable of cleaning hundreds of parts, AGVs moving parts from step to step, or AI-enabled software simplifying part design and quality assurance. It can also be seen in the partnerships announced in the AM industry daily, as companies move away from closed supply chains into open collaborations to create a robust, interconnected network of complementary products around their systems. This emphasis on automating and integrating additive manufacturing production lines will mature the industry to move out of niche areas into valuable, higher-volume applications. The latter application areas will fuel the 3D printing industry's growth into a $41 billion market by 2033, as forecast by IDTechEx in "3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing 2023-2033: Technology and Market Outlook".
For the full IDTechEx robotics research portfolio please visit www.IDTechEx.com/Research/Robotics, and for the 3D printing/additive manufacturing portfolio please see www.IDTechEx.com/Research/3D. IDTechEx also offers expert-led data on these and other related technologies as part of a market intelligence subscription - visit www.IDTechEx.com/Subscriptions to find out more.
This article is from "Technology Innovations Outlook 2024-2034", a complimentary magazine of analyst-written articles by IDTechEx providing insights into a number of areas of technology innovation, assessing the landscape now and giving you the outlook for the next decade. You can read the magazine in full at www.IDTechEx.com/Magazine.