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Will China become the world's largest robotics consumer?

Posting in Education

As labor costs rise, will robotics be the future of Chinese manufacture?

The Global Times reports that by 2014 demand for industrial robots will reach 32,000 units in China, which will make the Asian country the world's largest consumer of robotic technology.

The robotics industry is experiencing an upturn in growth and demand as labor costs continue to soar. China's economy has the potential to suffer in the future due to a shrinking working-age population caused by the country's one-child policy, and this in turn means finding trained staff can be difficult.

"There aren't many young workers coming off the streets to fill jobs at factories. That's why you're seeing factory wages going up, and factories struggling to hire trained staff," Geoff Crothal, a spokesman for the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin told The Guardian. "It's not surprising that you'd see greater focus on greater automation of production."

At the China International Industry Fair, which closed last week, a number of manufacturers, including SIASUN Robot & Automation Co., demonstrated a number of models that can multitask -- potentially taking over the roles often filled by human factory workers. These industry-tailored robots have also been exported to overseas markets including the United States and India.

Robots can often perform complex or difficult tasks impossible for their human counterparts, and can also improve energy efficiency -- a top priority in China's developing economy. In addition, as education rates rise, fewer young people may be happy to work in basic labor jobs, especially when improved healthcare means that working-age Chinese people may also have to support their ageing parents.

According to the China Daily, there were 21 robots for every 10,000 workers in China, whereas Japan has 339 robots for every 10,000 workers. However, as reliance on robotics continues to grow and if predictions concerning unit demand proves to be true, robotic developers may be hard-pressed to keep up with business demand.

Image credit: Robot Scoble

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— By on November 12, 2012, 8:17 PM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure