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China’s Factories Accelerate Robotics Push as Workforce Shrinks

China installed almost as many robots in its factories last year as the rest of the world, accelerating a rush to automate and consolidate its manufacturing dominance even as its working-age population shrinks.

Shipments of industrial robots to China in 2021 rose 45% compared with the previous year to more than 243,000, according to new data viewed by The Wall Street Journal from the International Federation of Robotics, a robotics industry trade group.

China accounted for just under half of all installations of heavy-duty industrial robots last year, reinforcing the nation’s status as the No. 1 market for robot manufacturers worldwide. The IFR data shows China installed nearly twice as many new robots as did factories throughout the Americas and Europe.

Part of the explanation for China’s rapid automation is that it is simply catching up with richer peers. The world’s second-largest economy lags behind the U.S. and manufacturing powerhouses such as Japan, Germany and South Korea in the prevalence of robots on production lines.

The rapid automation also reflects a growing recognition in China that its factories need to adapt as the country’s supply of cheap labor dwindles and wages rise.

The United Nations expects India to surpass China as the world’s most-populous country as soon as next year. The population of those in China age 20 to 64—the bulk of the workforce—might have already peaked, U.N. projections show, and is expected to fall steeply after 2030, as China’s population ages and birthrates stay low.


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