FRANKFURT, Germany—Sales of industrial robots in China increased by 19 percent in 2020, according to preliminary data from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).

“The outlook for the robotics industry is optimistic,” says Milton Guerry, IFR president and president of gripper supplier SCHUNK. “In China, where the coronavirus lockdown came into force first, the robotics industry started to recover in 2020. In total 167,000 industrial robots were shipped.”

Some 74 percent of those robots came from suppliers outside of China, mostly Japan.

Worldwide, robot installations in 2020 were down 2 percent due to the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Still, the decline in sales was more moderate than IFR experts expected, and the organization predicts strong growth in robot sales for 2021 and beyond. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, global GDP is expected to grow 5.5 percent in 2021 and 4 percent in 2022.

“Robotics have proven flexibility to quickly adapt production and respond to changes in demand as well as smaller batch sizes,” says Guerry. “The benefits of increased productivity safeguards jobs by keeping companies competitive.”