South Africa's ratio of industrial robots to employees amongst the global top 40

04 June 2018 Authored by Consultancy.co.za

South Africa might be at risk of losing jobs to robots, but it remains at relatively early stages of automation in its current ratio of robots to employees. According to new analysis from Consultancy.co.za, the country has 28 industrial robots installed per 10,000 employees, placing it at number 33 in the world.

Much has been made of the threat posed by the advancement in robotics and artificial intelligence, but most debates on the topic are currently based on predictions and speculation. The exact degree to which robotics can replace the need for humans in an organisation will only be revealed when the scope of artificial intelligence extends to an increasing number of functions.

In order to obtain the truest picture of the current scenario, Consultancy.co.za uses the absolute number of robots installed per year in the manufacturing sector – the segment most likely to lose out to automation. Analysis concluded that approximately 350,000 industrial robots were installed across the globe just last year, up from 300,000 the year before. 

Number of industrial robots installed globally by year

Based on the rate of growth, the predicted number of robots installed across the globe will shoot just past 380,000 this year, and will continue to grow to nearly 440,000 next year, eventually surpassing 520,000 by the year 2020. Using the 116,000 robots installed in 2010 as a starting point, this forecast represents a 350% increase over the decade between 2010 and 2020.

Nevertheless, the number of robots installed in itself does not portray the level of replacement to automation. For a better idea of this scenario, the analysis took into account the ratio of the number of industrial robots installed in a country for every 10,000 employees in the manufacturing sector.

Using this ratio as a metric, South Korea emerges as the country with the most robotic installations in the world, at 631 industrial robots per 10,000 employees. Singapore follows with 488, while Germany comes in third place at 309. Japan – which led the pack till just over a decade ago – places in fourth with 303, while Sweden rounds up the top 5 with 223 installations.

Number of industrial robots by country

For South Africa, predictions surrounding the loss of jobs have been fairly grave. A recent report from Accenture revealed that nearly 6 million people are currently at risk of losing their jobs to automation. Nevertheless, this figure is subject to change, provided that the workforce upgrades its skills and learns to work in collaboration with machines. 

At the moment, the permeation levels of automation are relatively low in South Africa. The country places in the top 40 in the world – which represents a considerable threat nonetheless – but its ratio of 28 robotic installations per 10,000 employees places it fairly low down the list in 33rd place. The ratio remains well below the global average of 74, but well ahead of other developing countries such as Brazil (10) and India (3). 

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