How a Takeoff in Advanced Robotics Will Power the Next Productivity Surge


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Robotics are quickly approaching an inflection point in usage and are being adopted in new industries. This deck highlights key findings from BCG's research the shifting economics of global manufacturing and the role that advanced robotics will play.

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How a Takeoff in Advanced Robotics Will Power the Next Productivity Surge

  1. 1. The Shifting Economics of Global Manufacturing How a Takeoff in Advanced Robotics Will Power the Next Productivity Surge February 2015 – Selected highlights
  2. 2. 1 Copyright©2015byTheBostonConsultingGroup,Inc.Allrightsreserved. Executive summary of the findings A takeoff in advanced robotics will lead to +/– changes of up to 5 percentage points in the cost competitiveness of the leading export nations relative to the US Advanced industrial robots will boost productivity and lower labor costs significantly over the coming decade Robotics are quickly approaching an inflection point in usage and are being adopted in new industries Four industries will deploy the majority of advanced robots through 2025 A combination of wage rates and labor flexibility will determine the rate of adoption • Countries that have shown the ability to drive consistent productivity gains have led BCG's global manufacturing cost-competitiveness rankings • Advanced industrial robots will power the next surge of productivity improvements • S. Korea, China, the US, Japan, and Germany are likely to benefit disproportionately; much of the rest of W. Europe is expected to lag in adoption due to their labor laws • Robots will boost productivity by 10%–30% in many industries and lower labor costs by 18% or more in certain countries in 2025, after inflationary increases over the next decade and net of traditional productivity measures • They could also push labor savings at least 30% higher than they would be otherwise • Prices should drop ~20% and performance should rise ~5% p.a. over the next decade • Recent introduction of robots <$40K (e.g., Baxter, UR5) working alongside humans is eliminating cost, safety, and programming barriers; robots are now affordable for SMEs • Programming, advanced vision, and gripping systems continue to expand the boundaries of use, eliminating technical barriers for some key sectors • Computer, electrical, transportation, and machinery will buy ~75% of robots through 2025 • Industry adoption will be primarily driven by economics (relative wages vs. robotics costs) • Industry task makeup will influence robot costs and likelihood of automation • Four patterns will emerge—with the fastest growth in SE Asia, slowest in W. Europe • Labor laws, capital availability, and growth will drive speed of country uptake • Estimate ~80% of purchases to come from China, US, Japan, Germany, and S. Korea
  3. 3. 2 Copyright©2015byTheBostonConsultingGroup,Inc.Allrightsreserved. Key takeaways Robotics will change the calculus of manufacturing. The era of moving factories to capitalize on low-cost labor is coming to an end • Not for every product but for many. This can already be seen in the transportation, computer, and electrical equipment sectors The size of the manufacturing plant will be far less important as an economic driver than it is today • Robotics will economically produce products in smaller lots and can be flexibly programmed and reprogrammed to create different configurations • Manufacturers, in some industries, will no longer need traditional, permanent production lines Factories will be smaller and will be able to serve local markets with tailored products • Once manufacturers set up a facility, they will be able to replicate production by sending the programming to similar robots anywhere Even small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can participate as new robots cost as little as $25,000 with attractive economics The workforce will require very different skills (e.g., programming and higher-end mechanical engineering) • Workers will need new training for the tasks they will do Manufacturers must stay vigilant • They must understand industry and country dynamics to know when rivals may adopt robotics • They should also develop long-term transition, technology-development, and retraining plans
  4. 4. 3 Copyright©2015byTheBostonConsultingGroup,Inc.Allrightsreserved. Productivity is a key driver of manufacturing competitiveness Labor typically represents ~15%–40% of production costs Productivity plays a major role in offsetting wage growth 151516 222323 27282829292932363636383942 0 20 40 60 80 100 Nonmetallicmineral Labor as % of 2014 industry costs Chemicals Petroleumandcoal 2 Primarymetals 15 Food Beverageandtobacco Transportationequipment Papermanufacturing Leatherproducts Textilemills Plasticsandrubber Electricalequipment Woodproducts Machinery Textileproductmills Furniture Fabricatedmetal Apparel Computerandelectronic Miscellaneous Printing Max Average across top 25 export economies 882 29 77 0 50 100 150 2004 Other cost increases 2014Productivity gains Wage growth -20 Example: Mfg Cost-Competitiveness Index, Computers / Electronics in China – YRD1 1Changes in the index from 2004-2014 are rounded to the nearest percentage point. YRD stands for Yangtze River Delta region in China. Sources: US Economic Census, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Bureau of Economic Analysis, International Labor Organization, Euromonitor, Economist Intelligence Unit, BCG analysis
  5. 5. 4 Copyright©2015byTheBostonConsultingGroup,Inc.Allrightsreserved. Canada SouthKorea By 2025, ~25% of all tasks will be automated through robotics, driving ~16% in global labor-cost savings 1China figures based on YRD region. Sources: STAN Bilateral Trade Database, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, BCG analysis Conservative Aggressive Scenarios 00 3 6777888999 1314 16 1818 20 21212222 24 25 33 0 10 20 30 40 Labor-cost savings from adoption of advanced industrial robots (%, 2025) Average global labor-cost savings ~16% Indonesia Japan UnitedStates Taiwan UnitedKingdom Australia Germany CzechRepublic China1 Globaltotal Thailand Switzerland Poland France Italy Belgium Sweden Netherlands Brazil Russia Mexico Austria Spain India 47 40 35 32 33 30 41 39 34 35 30 24 26 30 29 27 26 14 25 24 23 22 19 7 0 0 21 15 12 10 12 10 6 6 9 5 8 8 4 6 6 5 5 4 5 5 5 4 4 1 0 0
  6. 6. 5 Copyright©2015byTheBostonConsultingGroup,Inc.Allrightsreserved. Advanced robots operate where traditional robots cannot Able to apply logic to make decisions and/or operate in quasi- or unstructured environments Develops logic • Creative thinking required • Involves problem solving Applies logic • Arrives at a decision about the object • Involves quality control or feedback on success of an operation No logic needed • No decision made about the object • Includes image processing to determine part orientation/feature detection Rigid • Environment or objects always in predicable orientation/location • Objects can be moving but at a known speed Quasi-structured • Environment or objects have some degree of variability • Localization of objects requires additional degree of sensing (e.g., image processing) Unstructured • Environment or objects have no predefined orientation and/or no predefined structure • Localization of objects requires additional degree of sensing (e.g., image processing) Develops logic Applies logic No logic needed e Rigid Quasi- structured Unstructured Taskcomplexity Environment / Object structure Traditional robotics Human labor advantage Advanced robotics
  7. 7. 6 Copyright©2015byTheBostonConsultingGroup,Inc.Allrightsreserved. Project management Has consistently been ~5%–10% of total system costs; absolute cost decline expected Systems engineering (e.g., programming, installation) Gains from offline programming mostly obtained; decrease expected to slow given the minimum cost of installation Peripherals (e.g., safety barriers/systems, sensors) Will see additional drop due to removal of safety barriers Robot (includes software) Minimal declines expected given pricing is close to material cost for high-purchase-volume automotive industry Advanced industrial robots are increasing in performance while costs continue to fall steadily Future costs trends 55 43 33 30 28 33 40 45 40 36 81 62 46 39 33 13 11 9 0 50 100 150 200 2010 155 2005 182 103 7 2020 117 8 Present (2014) 133 Example of total industrial robot system costs ($USD, thousands) -22% 2025 1Average quality adjustment from 1990-2004 was ~5% on top of price change. Note: Example costs are for a spot welder (largest current application) in the US automotive industry, numbers in nominal dollars. Sources: ABB "Economic Justification for Industrial Robotic Systems" (2007), IFR "World Robotics-Industrial Robots 2013," expert interviews, BCG analysis Projected Meanwhile, robot performance is increasing at an estimated 5% per year1
  8. 8. 7 Copyright©2015byTheBostonConsultingGroup,Inc.Allrightsreserved. Robotics already a rational alternative to human labor in many industries based on pure economics 0 10 20 30 40 Price/performance-adjusted nominal wages and operating cost ($/hour) 2030202520202015 1Robot system cost is for a typical spot welding application in the US automotive industry. 2Example is a general robotic system, such as the ABB IRB 2400. 3Includes other wood products Note: Assumes 8% price and performance improvement rate. Gray lines represent high (thin lines) and low (thick lines) scenarios around baseline scenario. Labor hourly rates include benefits and overhead (~50% increase over base hourly pay). All values shown in nominal 2014 US dollars. Sources: US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Industrial Federation of Robotics, company websites, expert interviews, IFR "World Robotics - Industrial Robotics 2014," BCG analysis Within the US automotive and electrical equipment industries, robotic price/performance is better than or near parity with manual labor costs In other industries, robotic systems may surpass manual labor in the next 10 years 0 10 20 30 40 Price/performance-adjusted nominal wages and operating cost ($/hour) 2030202520202015 Robot (generic)2 Furniture wages 0 10 20 30 40 2030202520202015 Price/performance-adjusted nominal wages and operating cost ($/hour) 2023 US automotive industry US furniture industryUS electrical equipment industry Robot (generic)2 Electrical wagesSouthern US auto wages Robot (automotive)1 2013 industrial robot shipments (units) 10,320 2013 industrial robot shipments (units) 3,328 2013 industrial robot shipments3 (units) 23 2018
  9. 9. 8 Copyright©2015byTheBostonConsultingGroup,Inc.Allrightsreserved. Inexpensive robots with integrated low-cost systems have broadened their customer base beyond large companies New emerging platforms are low-cost… Universal Robotics Universal UR5: $34K (~$70K total with setup costs) • Sample applications: material handling, assembly, machine tending Rethink Robotics Baxter: $25K (~$38K with setup costs) • Sample applications: packaging, kitting, material handling …And are safe to operate alongside humans and easy to train or reprogram Source: Company websites Human-directed teachingSafety No safety barricades or equipment required Can work safely in proximity to humans (e.g., a collaborative robot) Manually moving the robot through the required motions eliminates the need for specialized technicians and expertise
  10. 10. 9 Copyright©2015byTheBostonConsultingGroup,Inc.Allrightsreserved. Technological advances also continue to create opportunity for robotics to be used in new industries Fabricated metal Solution examples Jabez Technologies' Robotmaster1 1Winner of Robotics Business Review's Game Change Award for motion control technologies. 2Cruse Leppelmann Kognitionstechnik GmbH. Sources:, company websites, BCG analysis Industry Food and beverage CLK2 3D visual inspection systems for trimming and cutting Electrical/ electronics Challenge • Translate CAD drawing to robot path • Inadequate programming tools for complex robot trajectories • Inconsistent product dimensions • High variability between animals • Small parts need a higher degree of accuracy (e.g., connectors) • Require quick movements to maximize throughput FANUC delta-style and high- speed six-axis articulated robots Application examples Debur a gear Process beef • Trim • Cut Assemble auto battery cells
  11. 11. 10 Copyright©2015byTheBostonConsultingGroup,Inc.Allrightsreserved. Certain industries are more likely to see the economic benefit of robotics due to high wages and automatable tasks -40 -20 0 20 40 % deviation from global average manufacturing wage2 Computer and electronic products Miscellaneous Furniture Transportation equipmentElectrical equipment, appliance, and component Apparel Textile product mills Machinery Fabricated metal Primary metal Nonmetallic mineral products Plastics and rubber products Chemicals Printing and support activities PaperWood products Leather Textile mills Beverage and tobacco products Food Most likely to lead global adoption Laggards Technologically limited Highly automatable1 Limited ability to automate Adoption in high-wage countries only Ability to automate based on currently available technology 1Corresponding to occupational tasks that have the future potential to be replaced with advanced robotics. 2Average industry-specific wage premium derived from BLS International Labor Comparison of Hourly Compensation Costs in Manufacturing Industries, 2012. Note: Petroleum and coal manufacturing not pictured due to high and variable wage premium, consistent with immovable, resource-intensive industries. Sources: US Bureau of Labor Statistics, BCG analysis
  12. 12. 11 Copyright©2015byTheBostonConsultingGroup,Inc.Allrightsreserved. Robotics adoption by year 0% 1% 3% 4% 7% 10% Robotics adoption by year 0% 0% 0% 0% 1% 1% Robotics reduces productivity-adjusted labor costs Examples: German chemical industry on cusp of adoption; US later, sees limited 2025 savings 2014 2016 2018 2020 2022 2024 50 100 200 150 250 Effective cost, weighted average of robotics cost and wage rate Average chemical robotics amoritized hourly cost German chemical industry productivity-adjusted wage index Robotics investment triggered in 2014, 15% price gap Robotics investment results in ~8% lower costs in 2025 German chemical industry labor costs (indexed to US) will be effectively reduced by enabling more output or fewer workers US chemical industry sees limited robotics investment, but still competitive Minimal 2025 savings realized due to low adoption rate Productivity-adjusted wages (US = 100 in 2014) Robotics investment not triggered until 2021 Note: All wages in nominal productivity-adjusted values. Sources: US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Economist Intelligence Unit, International Labor Organization, International Federation of Robotics, BCG analysis Productivity-adjusted wages (US = 100 in 2014) 2014 2016 2018 2020 2022 2024 200 50 100 150 250 Effective cost, weighted average of robotics cost and wage rate Average chemical robotics amoritized hourly cost US chemical industry productivity-adjusted wage index
  13. 13. 12 Copyright©2015byTheBostonConsultingGroup,Inc.Allrightsreserved. Labor-cost reduction and productivity gains due to robotics could have a big impact on countries' cost competitiveness Potential change in manufacturing cost-competitiveness index1 due to robotics, 2014 – 2025 1BCG's Global Manufacturing Cost-Competitiveness Index shows how competitive the top 25 export economies are in manufacturing. BCG measures each economy relative to the US. Above, a one-point gain vs. the US means that the direct manufacturing costs of the country in question will become one percentage point cheaper relative to the US by 2025. For further background, see BCG's August 2014 report, The Shifting Economics of Global Manufacturing. Sources: STAN Bilateral Trade Database, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, BCG analysis Conservative Aggressive Scenarios 4444 333222 2222 1110 -1-1-1 -2 -4 -6 -10 0 10 SouthKorea Indonesia Japan UnitedStates Taiwan Canada United Kingdom Australia Germany Czech Republic China Thailand Switzerland Poland France Russia Belgium Sweden Netherlands Brazil Italy Mexico Austria Spain India Gain ground vs. the US Lose ground vs. the US (11) (12) (3) (5) (4) (2) 0 0 (6) 1 (5) 1 1 (2) (2) 2 (0) 0 0 1 2 6 6 7 7 (4) (0) (1) (0) 0 (1) 0 (0) (0) (0) (0) 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 Dependent on wage growth, labor productivity gains and robot adoption, China may gain ground vs. the US Robotics offer an opportunity for both high- and low-wage countries to make competitiveness gains
  14. 14. 13 Copyright©2015byTheBostonConsultingGroup,Inc.Allrightsreserved. Management implications: Manufacturers worldwide must remain vigilant An understanding of global costs and robot usage within your industry... Survey the global landscape and keep a pulse on industry-specific robotics trends • Price/performance trends in your industry and country • Know drivers of robotics adoption in your industry • Robotics are not out of reach for SMEs Keep abreast of technology and likely competitor adoption • Be aware of when technical challenges (e.g., vision systems) are solved • Knowledge of competitive robotics adoption supports accurate costing, pricing, investment, and strategic decision-making ...Is key to building a long-term network and workforce strategy Basis of competition is likely to shift away from low-cost labor arbitrage • Manufacturers can no longer simply "chase" cheap labor • Workers' tasks may shift to more complex tasks where humans maintain advantages • Consider locating where skilled programming/automation labor is available, not just traditional low-cost, low-skill labor Prepare a network strategy for the robotics revolution to maintain long-term competitiveness • Consider network flexibility in order to realize the benefits of robotics as costs fall • Develop a plan for robotics adoption as: – New technology comes online – Costs continue to decline – Robot productivity accelerates
  15. 15. 14 Copyright©2015byTheBostonConsultingGroup,Inc.Allrightsreserved. This research is part of BCG’s series on the shifting economics of global manufacturing Authors of this research Selected publications and research in the series The Shifting Economics of Global Manufacturing: How Cost Competitiveness Is Changing Worldwide A report by The Boston Consulting Group August 2014 The Rise of Robotics An article by The Boston Consulting Group August 2014 3D Printing Will Change the Game: Prepare for Impact An article by The Boston Consulting Group September 2013 Majority of Large Manufacturers Are Now Planning or Considering 'Reshoring' from China to the U.S. (press release) Survey findings by The Boston Consulting Group September 2013 Behind the American Export Surge: The U.S. as One of the Developed World’s Lowest-Cost Manufacturers A report by The Boston Consulting Group August 2013 U.S. Manufacturing Nears the Tipping Point: Which Industries, Why, and How Much? A report by The Boston Consulting Group March 2012 Note: Publications are available on BCG’s thought leadership portal,, or at Harold L. Sirkin Senior partner and coauthor of The U.S. Manufacturing Renaissance: How Shifting Global Economics Are Creating an American Comeback (Knowledge@Wharton, November 2012) BCG Chicago Michael Zinser Partner, coleader of the Manufacturing practice, and coauthor of The U.S. Manufacturing Renaissance: How Shifting Global Economics Are Creating an American Comeback BCG Chicago Justin Rose Partner, leader of green energy in the Americas, and coauthor of The U.S. Manufacturing Renaissance: How Shifting Global Economics Are Creating an American Comeback BCG Chicago To request a media interview, please contact Eric Gregoire at To discuss the findings with a BCG expert, please contact Payal Sheth at To read other publications in this series, please go to