Key component costs inhibit Chinese robotics supplier growth

By Wilmer Zhou, IHS Technology



By Wilmer Zhou, IHS Technology

The Chinese market for industrial robots was estimated at $810.4 million in 2012, and is predicted to grow with a CAGR of 9.6% to $1.3 billion in 2017. International robotics companies dominated the Chinese market with a combined market share of over 85%, and the top four (Fanuc, KUKA, ABB, and Yaskawa) accounted for nearly 60% in 2012. Local Chinese robotics suppliers have trouble competing internationally, mainly because they cannot remain price-competitive due to their relatively higher costs for key components.

Midstream robotic builders are located in the low end of the robotics industry value chain if they cannot manufacture their own key components, or if they do not offer system integration services. This is the case with most of the local Chinese robotics suppliers. Key components, such as servo motors, servo drives, controllers, and precision gearboxes, make up around 60% of the cost of a robot.

ABB, Fanuc, KUKA and Yaskawa have significant advantages in regards to their supply of key components, as they can build their own components or outsource the components at a relatively low price. Because of their limited production volume, the purchase price of key components for local Chinese robotics suppliers is much higher than that of their international counterparts, preventing them from being price-competitive.    

Servo motors and servo drives used in industrial robots are more stable, have faster dynamic response, and are more precise than standard devices. The major robotics suppliers have customized their servomotors and servo drives to establish a technological barrier. European suppliers (e.g., Siemens, Bosch Rexroth, Beckhoff, B&R, and KEBA) and Japanese suppliers (e.g., Yaskawa, Fanuc, Sanyo Denki, and Panasonic) dominate this market. Local Chinese robotics suppliers GSK, Estun and STEP Electric produce their own servo drives and servomotors as well.

Precision gearboxes consist of any kind of gearbox used in industrial robots, such as harmonic gearboxes and precision cycloidal gearboxes. The precision gearboxes in SCARA robots and parallel robots are harmonic gearboxes. Precision gearboxes in articulated robots are mostly precision cycloidal gearboxes. Harmonic Drives is the market leader for harmonic gearboxes. Nabtesco dominates the precision cycloidal gearbox market both in China and globally. Local Chinese suppliers, such as Leaderdrive and Nan-tong Zhenkang, are just starting to develop precision gearboxes.

Controllers used in industrial robots are more precise, more stable, have a faster dynamic response, support networks with higher speeds, and are more flexible and extensible than those in average applications. Most industrial robot suppliers develop their own controllers; however, some local suppliers are not able to develop their own controllers. Instead, these local suppliers have to purchase controllers (sometimes as part of a complete solution) from controller suppliers, such as B&R, KEBA, Beckhoff and Yaskawa. Googoltech is a local motion controller supplier developing the motion controller for robotics industry.

System integrators are demanding greater flexibility and versatility of robots to fulfill the various requirements from different applications. In order to provide customized robots, local Chinese robotics suppliers are facing the challenge of coming up with modular designs that can be reused and reconfigured. Complete solution providers of all of the key components are a possible supply source for Chinese midstream robotics suppliers, which could address this challenge.