AUTOMATICA 2010 anticipates market requirements, growth of solar

MAY 21, 2009-- While the already substantially automated automobile industry is taking a break, industry experts expect increasing automation efforts in general industry (all industries beside automotive).

MAY 21, 2009--Although there is still more than one year until the next AUTOMATICA (June 8-11, 2010; www.automatica-munich.com), the International Trade Fair for Automation and Mechatronics in Munich, the topics it deals with are more relevant than ever, say event organizers. Automation is touted as the key to higher flexibility and profitability.

Companies and associations are currently acting reserved with respect to making forecasts. It is difficult to predict what can still happen in the coming months, the whole year 2009, and in the subsequent year. The automation industry is no exception, but it may have some advantages. On one hand, automation has just had "an outstanding year," say AUTOMATICA organizers. According to VDMA (Frankfurt am Main, Germany; www.vdma.com/vision) statistics, the Robotics and Automation (R+A) industry had two-figure growth in each of the past years. The manufacturers of industrial machine vision, assembly, and handling technology as well as robotics associated with the VDMA Trade Association of the same name were even able to set records last year; they achieved top sales of EUR9.3 billion with growth of 13% in 2008. The reason for the high growth was the continued, worldwide trend to automate.

Declines in received orders in 4Q08 already pointed to the end of the growth cycle. How much of this development would result in a downward spiral only became gradually evident after the turn of the year. With consideration of the 48% drop in received orders in 1Q09, VDMA Robotics + Automation forecast a decline in industry sales by about 20% to EUR7.3 billion for 2009 and consequently the level of the year 2006. Overall, automation technology is suffering from the fact that users -- and especially the automobile industry and its components suppliers -- are postponing projects and as a result the procurement of production facilities.

However, people in the association are still confident that German manufacturers will emerge strengthened from the crisis. Michael Wenzel, deputy chairperson of the VDMA Trade Association R+A and managing director of Reis Robotics, emphasizes that "the need for automation continues unabated. Our companies have done their homework and are less affected by the crisis in this downturn than was the case in the '90s, for example. Their products enjoy an optimum reputation worldwide, so that they will be the first to profit from a business upswing, regardless of where it happens."

While companies pay most of their attention to ongoing production and financial growth during phases of high demand, there is now more time for setting the strategic course for the future. Wenzel is convinced that innovative companies will use this time to their advantage. "Automation is the key to success, especially for manufacturing companies in Europe. It contributes to cutting costs and to remaining competitive against products from low-wage countries. But products are also improved with support of robotics and automation; their functional density increases, and they fulfill even the highest demands for quality," he says.

While the already substantially automated automobile industry is taking a break, industry experts expect increasing automation efforts in general industry (all industries beside automotive). Although processes are often automated in other industries, they are largely rigid compared to the automobile industry. But production facilities must be flexible due to customers who are increasingly focused on individual solutions. One example is provided by the packaging industry. Use of robots -- a very flexible part of automation -- was limited to palleting tasks there for years. Today, this market segment is a model example for the multifaceted forms of automation.

In addition to packaging machine manufacturers, additional growth and stimuli for automation are especially expected in the areas of food-related machines, the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, medical technology, the life sciences, and the photovoltaics industry. The latter provides particular opportunities: In Germany alone, the installed capacity of all photovoltaic systems increased from 3.8 GW in 2007 to 5.3 GW (peak performance) in 2008. Seen globally, the installed capacity of photovoltaic facilities even almost doubled last year, which was made possible with corresponding production automation.

Market researchers and analysts forecast weaker growth dynamics for the solar industry in 2009 due to the current financial crisis. However, they are confident, because the need for photovoltaic facilities is being promoted increasingly by new stimulus programs in Eastern Europe, the United States, and China. At the same time, manufacturers of solar systems are planning to reduce prices and consequently manufacturing costs sufficiently over the coming years until solar energy costs are at least down to the level of traditional energy sources.

Considerable success has been achieved in this industry over the past years, which will continue given the cited prerequisites. Anja H. Schneider, project manager of the Munich trade fair, is certain that AUTOMATICA is providing the rigt forum. "AUTOMATICA was already able to record a great deal of interest from the photovoltaics industry in 2008, especially since the trade fair Intersolar took place parallel. The demand from photovoltaic will continue in 2010. This is precisely the right time to get started with automation."

-- Posted by Carrie Meadows, Vision Systems Design, www.vision-systems.com

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