Where the Pandemic Is Impacting Automation

Though it’s still too early to tell for certain, distinct technology areas—ranging from 5G, cloud/edge, and artificial intelligence to articulated robots—are expected to grow significantly in response to the business impacts of COVID-19.

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There’s been no shortage of conjecture about the impact of COVID-19 on business. Many are predicting the pandemic will accelerate the digital transformation because of its inherent ability to allow for social distancing.

Wind River, a supplier of software for intelligent edge computing applications, recently conducted a survey of industry executives in the U.S. and China to gauge their response to the pandemic. Not surprisingly, the results showed that 98% of respondents in China and 90% in the U.S. note their ability to meet customer demands has been impacted, with 75% across both regions noting that they are modifying corporate strategies due to COVID-19. 

More specifically, the survey showed these executives are focusing on distinct technology areas as part of their developing strategies. For the executives more focused on transforming their businesses amid the pandemic, those enterprises are increasing their spend in the following areas:

  • 5G projects—63% in China and 37% in the U.S.;
  • Cloud-based application development: 62% in China and 35% in the U.S.;
  • Artificial Intelligence: 61% in China and 37% in U.S.;
  • Container-based development: 56% in China and 38% in U.S.;
  • IoT: 60% in China and 33% in U.S.; and
  • Edge applications: 57% in China and 25% in U.S.

The Wind River study notes that, regardless of region, “most enterprises realize that the road ahead will be tough. Fifty percent of enterprises in the U.S. and 77% in China are seeing heavier workloads across their teams. They also anticipate the need to implement major initiatives such as accelerating new business models (83% in U.S., 89% in China) and building in more agile development (82% in U.S., 86% in China).”

Markets and Markets, a B2B research firm, predicts significant growth in the articulated robot markets as a result of the pandemic. Post-COVID-19, Markets and Markets predicts the traditional industrial robotics market size (including the prices of peripherals, software, and system engineering) will grow from $44.6 billion in 2020 to $73 billion by 2025. And this predicted growth rate reflects a reduction of about 3% due to COVID-19 impacts.

The “dearth of skilled labor and solicitation of proposals by governments and public-private companies to mitigate the adverse impact of COVID-19 are key driving factors for the (robotics) market,” says Markets and Markets. “Although the COVID-19 pandemic will negatively affect the market growth until Q2 or Q3 of 2020, the market is expected to grow from 2021 onwards as the players in the industrial robotics market clear their backlogs and start with the new orders. For instance, for fiscal year 2019, the robotics business division of Kuka had order backlogs worth $309 million.”

Amid the COVID-19 slowdown, Markets and Markets predicts that articulated robots will hold a large market share in 2020. “Although most industries are affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic, articulated robots are still expected to maintain the highest share of the industrial robotics market during the forecast period,” says Markets and Markets. “Other robots, such as SCARA and parallel robots, are more specialized and not as versatile in terms of payload and reach compared to articulated robots. Hence, articulated robots will still maintain the largest share in the industrial robotics industry throughout the forecast period.”

Like articulated robots, the automated guide vehicle (AGV) segment of the robot market is also expected to grow as a result of COVID-19. Markets and Markets predicts the AGV market will grow from $2 billion in 2019 to $2.9 billion by 2024.

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