After more than 20 years of rapid development, China’s mobile Robots (AGVs) have grown from nothing to big to strong, spanning the two major industries of logistics and robots, and have achieved world-renowned achievements. With the disappearance of China’s demographic dividend and the transformation of domestic industries, various robots are widely used and the market space is huge. The domestic mobile robot has become a pearl in the field of robotics. From independent technology, product development, to the competitiveness of going abroad, it can be said that it is not inferior to its foreign counterparts, and its sales are growing at an average rate of more than 30% every year. .
The strong performance of mobile robots is related to the broad production needs of the national economy. The development of China’s mobile robots has increased significantly from the incremental demand for products. The author believes that it has gone through three stages.
The first stage is from the 1990s to 2010, which belongs to the primary development stage. It is mainly the coexistence of China’s independent research and development and cooperative introduction. There are no more than 5 domestic enterprises that can produce AGV. The annual shipment of AGV is very low, and users are mainly concentrated in industries such as tobacco and automobiles.
Since 2010, it has entered the second stage. With the rapid development of China’s automobile industry, mobile robots with high cost performance, light load and low positioning accuracy have been rapidly promoted in the four process workshops of automobile powertrain, stamping, welding and final assembly.
By the end of 2018, all domestic brand car factories have basically applied this material distribution model, and the number of AGV applications has grown exponentially.
The explosion point of the third stage is that after Amazon acquired Kiva in 2014 and adopted a large number of mobile robots, domestic e-commerce companies have followed suit and deployed shelf handling robots in the fields of storage and sorting, which has become a new hot spot in the development of the AGV market in recent years. New mobile robotics companies have also sprung up like mushrooms after a spring rain, and are being sought after by capital.
1. Review of the development of China’s mobile robot (AGV) industry in 2018
China’s mobile Robot Industry in 2018 can be called “a hundred flowers blooming”. Due to the strong demand in the domestic market, AGV has many innovative points such as new application fields, new models, and old model transformations, creating a group of professional manufacturers who have deeply cultivated a certain field and achieved good performance, and market sales continue to expand. For example, Shenyang Xinsong borrows The Winter Olympics is an important stage to showcase the technology and capabilities of China’s mobile robots to the world.
According to incomplete statistics, in 2012, there were less than 20 companies producing AGV bodies in China, around 60 in December 2015, and more than 120 in 2018.
According to the statistics of the New Strategic Robot Industry Research Institute, there were more than 10 AGV companies with sales revenue of over 100 million yuan in China in 2018. In 2018, the AGV market capacity in China exceeded 4 billion yuan, and the shipment of AGV forklifts exceeded 1,000 for the first time. tower.
From the perspective of regional market concentration, my country’s AGV market will still be in a state of increased concentration.
The Pearl River Delta and the Yangtze River Delta are still the main gathering places for AGVs. It can be seen that the regional market concentration of AGVs is close to a monopoly, and the regional concentration of AGVs is gradually increasing. On the whole, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Zhejiang and other regions may be the key development areas of China’s AGV industry in the future.
Looking back on 2018, the development of the mobile robot industry has been mixed. I would like to share my personal views from 5 aspects:
1. The price caused by various factors such as homogenization
The increasing number of manufacturers, lack of industry standards, winning bids at the lowest price, homogenization, and capital betting/mergers have made the competition in China’s mobile robot industry increasingly fierce in recent years, directly leading to fierce price wars. In some industries, such as the two fields of automobile logistics AGV and e-commerce sorting AGV mentioned above, most AGV companies are doing projects with low profits or losing money. Problems such as high prices, a series of inferior projects have appeared in the market, and customer complaints have increased, which directly affects the healthy development of the AGV industry and the confidence of enterprises in the application of AGV. At present, the phenomenon of relying on low prices to open up the market is still very common in the industry. The low price strategy directly leads to bad money driving out good money, which reduces the enthusiasm of enterprises in the early stage of technology investment, which is not conducive to the development of the industry.
2. Financing, acquisition and betting continues
In 2018, the capital of the mobile robot industry has gradually become rational after overheating. Capital pays more attention to those companies with strong technical accumulation, established companies continue to make progress while maintaining stability, and emerging companies are also striving to explore their own development path. In the process of industry development, capital also plays a pivotal role.
In 2018, nearly ten AGV manufacturers alone received financing. Among them, Jizhijia set a new financing record in the field of global logistics robots with US$150 million, which fully shows that capital is optimistic about mobile robots. But it is worth noting that, except for a few companies, the overall financing amount of mobile robot companies is not large, most of them are concentrated in the level of 10 million yuan, and there are not many hundreds of millions; and like 2017, the industry in 2018 Most of the corporate financing is still in the first two rounds, and there are basically no companies that can enter the C round.
3. The industry segmentation is more obvious, and overseas market development has achieved good results
The market segmentation characteristics in the field of mobile robots are very obvious. With certain technical accumulation and deep cultivation in the industry, a new AGV application mode suitable for the characteristics of the industry can always be explored. This new model and new demand are also the only way for the AGV market to expand and increase. Due to the different characteristics of each application scenario, the technical requirements for AGV are also different, so some AGV companies have inherent advantages in some applications. At the same time, deep cultivation based on sub-sectors has become the future development goal of many companies, especially for some start-up companies, they do not have enough ability to develop various industry markets, so choosing one or several fields for deep cultivation has become a The choice of many businesses.
With the continuous development of the domestic AGV industry, domestic AGVs are also accelerating the pace of going global. To this end, some domestic enterprises have begun to carry out international certification to ensure the passage in overseas markets. At present, the successive implementation of AGV overseas projects allows us to see that the international competitiveness of domestic AGV enterprises is gradually increasing.
4. Try new business models of self-operated third-party warehousing and financial leasing
In the past two years, due to the fierce competition in the domestic mobile robot market, many AGV manufacturers have begun to try new business models in order to expand the influence of the industry, ensure shipments, and provide testing opportunities to improve the reliability of product applications. one.
(1) Supporting self-operated warehouses for e-commerce companies
This business model transfers the operating costs of the original e-commerce company to the AGV provider, who recovers the investment on a commission basis. Due to the large initial investment and long account period, AGV companies can only rely on financing to solve capital problems. This model requires mobile robot manufacturers to change their business ideas and form a warehousing operation team, while market uncertainty and professional operation experience are a big test for AGV companies; at the same time, e-commerce companies’ willingness to share information and low-cost requirements for operation , it also poses challenges to AGV companies. Whether this model is successful will take time to verify.
(2) Financial leasing business model
The idea of this business model originated from forklift companies, and domestic forklift companies have basically carried out forklift financial leasing business. According to the current understanding, most mobile robot companies are reluctant to accept this model, and only a few cases are implemented. The main reason is that, compared with a standardized product such as a forklift, AGV systems and professionals are required to provide technical support to deploy AGVs to customer sites. Because the customer puts forward new requirements, the original AGV needs to be transformed or newly manufactured, and the division of responsibilities and obligations between the supply and demand sides is very troublesome.
5. The establishment of an industry alliance provides a platform for the future standardization and healthy development of the industry
In 2017, the China Mobile Robot (AGV) Industry Alliance was formally established, which is the only industry organization in the AGV field in China. In 2018, the alliance also continued to grow with the development of the AGV industry. As of now, the alliance has 185 member companies, including more than 160 AGV-related industry chain companies. At the same time, the data released by the industry alliance is more authentic and reliable, providing a communication and sharing platform for the healthy development of the industry.
2. Outlook for AGV market and technology development trends in 2019
In the past two years, as AGV technology continues to mature, its application scenarios continue to expand. In addition to the automobile and the e-commerce industry that has become popular in recent years, some emerging markets, such as medical treatment, inspection, parking and other industries, are gradually expanding the application of AGV, but the emerging industry as a whole is still in the market cultivation period. For AGV manufacturers, in addition to cultivating users’ awareness of AGVs during this period, it is also necessary to continuously improve the stability and practicability of products.
In the increasingly competitive AGV market, “innovation” has become one of the magic weapons for companies to break through in the market. In 2018, many companies began to work hard on products, such as the smallest pallet AGV on the market, and Picking AGV that can collect multiple target SKU boxes at one time, all of which reflect the company’s continuous pursuit of product innovation.
In 2019, the flexible application of AGV has attracted more and more attention from the industry. Especially when AGV began to be widely used in the 3C electronics industry, due to the characteristics of the industry, product categories often changed, and the corresponding production line, AGV scheduling scheme and rail navigation marking method may need to be changed, so the flexible handling of AGV began to become the application side. urgent needs of businesses.
The ease of use and ease of deployment of AGV systems will become the vane of industry development. In response to this flexibility, AGV system software and scheduling systems are critical. AGV can be quickly deployed, especially for non-professionals, which is the key technology upgrade research and development direction of AGV manufacturers. In the future, mature technologies of artificial intelligence (AI) will be gradually introduced in the field of AGV system scheduling and planning, enabling AGVs to be intelligent and easy to deploy.
In the past two years, natural navigation has been regarded as the development trend of AGV’s future navigation methods, and 2019 is no exception. Natural navigation is still the focus of discussion in the industry, and some simple and natural navigation systems will be applied on-site. However, there is a change that more and more people in the industry believe that each navigation method has its own advantages, and which navigation method to use should be determined according to the application scenario and investment cost. Therefore, it is generally believed in the industry that the navigation method of AGV will show a trend of integrated development in the future, and new technologies will continue to be integrated. AGV is a low-speed unmanned car, which will be deeply integrated and learned from the unmanned technology of the road environment. In the future, we will find that mature AGV system technology will be reflected in the field of unmanned driving.
In 2019, there will be more and more domestic AGV export projects overseas, and there will be more AGV manufacturers capable of exporting to developed countries such as Europe and the United States. Compared with foreign manufacturers, domestic AGV companies have obvious cost advantages, and domestic manufacturers are relatively capable of deep customization. However, some potential risks will also be encountered, and it is hoped that each company will strengthen the relevant risk control capabilities.
The first is the issue of patents. Domestic manufacturers have relatively weak awareness, and rarely consider whether to infringe or not when they develop products, or play a marginal role in patent infringement. The author has participated in several large-scale exhibitions of robotics and logistics in the United States, but basically I have not seen products similar to Kiva shelf robots. The reason is that Amazon has registered a patent for this operating mode, and other manufacturers can only use new creative models to realize unmanned warehouses. Robot deployment.
The second is the unresolved trade friction between China and the United States. AGV robots are part of the U.S. tariffs on China’s trade, so AGVs exported to the U.S. market will increase a lot of costs due to tariff issues.
Once again, exporting to the European and American markets also requires product safety certification. European and American safety certification requires bicycle certification and system certification. System certification is usually only after the AGV software and hardware are fully certified before the project is completed, and both bicycle certification and system certification will greatly increase product costs.
In short, a series of unfavorable factors such as overcapacity in 2018, economic downward pressure, and the Sino-US trade war have affected companies’ market expectations in 2019, but the author personally believes that the rapid growth of China’s mobile robot market demand will not slow down, and the industry will develop rapidly. Space can be imagined infinitely. We must maintain an optimistic attitude and welcome the joy of harvesting at the end of 2019 together!