Supply Chain Matters has featured prior commentaries regarding the evolving digitization of manufacturing and the entry of advanced robotics to springboard the next wave of manufacturing productivity and labor cost savings, particularly in former low cost manufacturing regions. A recent perspective focused on the largest global contract manufacturer, Foxconn, collaborating with Google on advanced robotics applied to human assembly operations.

We alerted from a Twitter posting from Colin Masson of Microsoft to a report published by World Industrial Reporter regarding a recent disclosure from International Federation of Robots (IFR). That organization reports that industry investments in robotics have been on a sustained rise since 2010.  While robot investments are slowing down in certain industries, others are increasing at hefty rates. IFR indicates that electrical/electronics industry investments are on the rise in applications related to retooling production processes.  A more revealing statistic was that growth in the order of 21 percent is expected in China, Taiwan, South Korea and other Southeast Asia regions in 2014.  Robots sales in the Americas are forecasted to grow 11 percent in that same period. Once more, IFR indicates that robot sales in the Asia/Australia region will grow 16 percent on average, per year, in the period from 2015-2017.  Specifically for China, IFR predicts that 400,000 industrial robots will be installed among that country’s factories by 2017.

That is obviously a strong data point indicating that low-cost manufacturing regions are indeed looking to invest in advanced and more cost affordable robotics to leverage production operations. IFR points to the entry of new on-shore domestic suppliers to add to the competitive landscape. Readers will further note that later in the report, an auto industry robotics specialist indicates that the direct interaction between humans and robots remains in beginning stages.

Then again, with Google invested in this area, that perspective may quickly change in the coming months.