The era of “robot+” opens, driving the next wave of chip tide?

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Recently, 17 departments, including the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Public Security, jointly released the “Robot+” application action implementation plan, proposing the development goals and ten major application scenarios for robots in the manufacturing industry in 2025. Industry insiders believe that the introduction of this policy means the arrival of the “robot+” era, the wider application range of robots, and the huge development opportunities for manufacturing robots.
With the development of robot technology, the application field of robots is becoming wider and wider, and the market is also developing. The China Electronics Society predicts that the global robot market will reach US $51.3 billion in 2022, with an average annual growth rate of 14% from 2017-2022. According to a research report from Boston Consulting, the global robot market is expected to grow by nearly 10 times in the next 10 years, and by 2030, the global robot market will reach $160 billion to $260 billion.
The Takeoff of the Robot Market
The implementation plan for the “robot+” application action includes ten key application fields such as manufacturing, agriculture, construction, energy, commerce and logistics, economic development, medical health, elderly care services, education, commercial community services, and safety emergency, as well as extreme environmental applications in the field of social and livelihood.
In the field of industrial machinery, the robot industry market is growing strongly. Manufacturing is the first robot application field mentioned in the plan released this time. Improving the efficiency and automation of processes is more urgent than ever due to labor shortages and rising costs caused by shrinking labor forces and aging populations in many countries. Therefore, in the manufacturing industry and other workplaces, the use of multi-axis robots capable of performing various operational and transportation tasks is rapidly expanding. By promoting the construction of intelligent manufacturing demonstration factories, developing intelligent manufacturing systems based on industrial robots, and accelerating the digital and intelligent transformation of the manufacturing industry.
In addition to industrial robots, the three-year epidemic has also enabled the service robot market to take shape. The anti epidemic robot series has become a new force for epidemic prevention and control, and “contactless” unmanned distribution has become a new focus. It is expected that the global service robot market will reach US $21.7 billion in 2022, and the global service robot market is expected to grow to US $29 billion in 2024.
Whether industrial robots or service robots, these robots are combining information technology to improve their perception, computing, and execution capabilities. As the level of robot intelligence continues to improve, the demand for chips is also increasing. So which chip products are expected to benefit?
What chips does the robot carry?
FPGA chip
FPGA chips have the advantages of high-speed, parallel, extremely rich computing and pin resources, flexible functions, direct hardware implementation algorithms, simple and efficient operand access mechanisms, and direct exploration of the underlying hardware through development and debugging. It is a common practice in the industry to apply FPGA to servo drives. FPGA is better than CPU in executing image processing algorithms and is the best solution; When implementing AI algorithms, FPGA is a mainstream parallel scheme with GPU, which has great advantages in power consumption. Compared to ASIC development, using FPGA not only shortens the development and verification cycle, but also means that logic can be quickly changed when problems arise, or functional requirements can be modified or enhanced when necessary.
The characteristics of FPGA chips can improve servo control performance and reduce power consumption; In addition, FPGA chips provide multiple hardware IPs, including PCI Express, to ensure bus connection reliability while achieving peripheral logic integration, promoting circuit miniaturization and reducing power consumption. Reduced power consumption means that fanless enclosures can be used, eliminating the need for easily worn mechanical components and avoiding the inhalation of dust.
Due to the long delivery time of robots, especially robot products in the industrial field, due to maintenance considerations, it is necessary to extend the equipment delivery period, as the service life of industrial equipment can usually reach more than 10 years. The extended product life cycle of FPGA can meet the needs of industrial customers.
MCU chip
MCU is a widely used choice for robot execution layer. As the core control device of industrial robots, MCU will also benefit from the rapid growth of the robot market. In a single robotic arm of an industrial robot, an average of eight built-in controllers become MCU chips.
In addition to providing embedded platforms and design tools that are easy to develop, it is also important to establish a complete communication environment around MCU to handle various industrial communication protocols such as USB and SPI. Compared with traditional industrial robots, the motion mode of humanoid robots is more complex, requiring high-precision control of the position, direction, speed, and torque of the motor. The MCU can perform complex and high-speed operations required for motor control. Current robot solutions include a single motor platform (one MCU controls one motor) and a dual motor platform (one MCU controls two motors). The sum of the two motor powers of a dual motor platform is less than the maximum power of a single motor.
In the future, MCU designed with more advanced technology will adopt higher performance cores, which will greatly improve its performance and rapidly increase market demand. With the global MCU market expanding year by year and domestic MCU upgrading, domestic MCU manufacturers are expected to break through foreign monopolies.
DSP chip
DSP (Digital Signal Processing) refers to digital signal processing technology, and a DSP chip refers to a chip capable of implementing digital signal processing technology. The DSP chip uses a Harvard structure that separates program and data, has dedicated hardware multipliers, widely uses pipeline operations, and provides dedicated DSP instructions that can be used to quickly implement various digital signal processing algorithms.
DSP chips have developed rapidly since their birth, benefiting not only from the development of integrated circuits but also from the huge market. In just a few decades, DSP chips have been widely used in communication, radar, imaging, military, instrumentation, automation, signal processing, and many other fields.
DSP chips are used in the field of industrial robots, equivalent to playing a joint role. Under the control of DSP, the robot reacts faster and moves more accurately. Industrial robots need to process a large amount of data in their work. With the increasingly widespread and widespread application of industrial robots, DSP chips are increasingly used in this field, and their importance, economy, and practicality will be reflected.
IGBT chip
The traditional industrial control and power supply industries are the cornerstone of supporting the stable development of the IGBT market. Industrial control is the largest application field of IGBT, with steady growth in demand. With the deepening of industrial automation, widely deployed industrial robots and intelligent machine tools rely on powerful and flexible AC motors, servo motors, energy-saving frequency converters, and power supplies.
IGBT power semiconductor devices are the core devices in the field of power electronics applications. With electric energy as the processing object, power electronics technology is used to rectify, stabilize, switch, and convert electric energy, achieving efficient and high-quality conversion. Power semiconductors are the core components of power electronic conversion devices. They play an irreplaceable key role in high-power, high-current, high-frequency, and low-noise applications, and are widely used in the field of industrial control.
In recent years, the inverter and welding machine market in China has grown steadily, the industrial robot market has accelerated development, and the corresponding industrial control IGBT market will also grow steadily. According to Jibang Consulting data, the global industrial control IGBT market size in 2020 is about 14 billion yuan, of which the Chinese industrial control IGBT market size is about 5.3 billion yuan. It is expected that the global industrial control IGBT market size will reach 17 billion yuan by 2025.
The field of robot chips is still the home of foreign enterprises
From 2020 to 2021, the global FPGA market will grow at a rate of 16%. It is expected to continue to maintain a good growth momentum in the next five years (with a compound annual growth rate of about 12% to 15%). Major FPGA vendors include Intel and Celesys. Intel provides solutions for multiple application scenarios by providing processors and FPGAs, equipped with the OpenVINO tool suite and oneAPI; Selingx also has a mature robot platform, leading the robotics industry.
Traditional MCU manufacturers also have a deep accumulation in the field of robotics. TI provides a complete set of robot solutions, while Resa, Enzip, Microchip, Italian French Semiconductor, Infineon, and other options are also available. These enterprises can provide more components for robot enterprises, not only limited to master chips.
The major global DSP manufacturers include Texas Instruments, ADI, NXP, and Jell Systems, with Texas Instruments accounting for the highest proportion. In China, products from European and American manufacturers still occupy the main market. Domestic enterprises with DSP products include 38 Electronics Technology, Hunan Jinxin, Jiangsu Hongyun Technology, Shenzhen Chuangcheng Microelectronics, Beijing Zhongke Haoxin Technology, etc.
In addition, CPU is also the main chip in the field of industrial control. With the development of robots, it is necessary to achieve control, grip analysis, visual object recognition, and so on in an increasing number of environments. These are computationally intensive, and only one FPGA is not enough. Intel has accumulated a lot of experience in the field of CPU products. In recent years, some domestic and some brands have entered. The embedded CPU products of Guoxin Technology can be widely used in the field of industrial control.
With the increasingly widespread application of 5G, AI and other technologies in the field of robotics, there will be more and more chip players in the field of robotics. Qualcomm, which is steadily advancing in the main AI chip market, has also released the RB6 robot platform, demonstrating the strong strength of robots under the support of 5G and AI.
In December 2022, the production of industrial robots by industrial enterprises above designated size nationwide will reach 40000 units. From January to December 2022, the total output of industrial robots by industrial enterprises above designated size nationwide was 443000 units. In December 2022, the output of service robots for industrial enterprises above designated size nationwide was 491000. From January to December 2022, the total output of service robots for industrial enterprises above designated size in China was 6.458 million units.
The robot industry has no opportunity to overtake on curves. To achieve high-quality development of the hard technology industry, only by down-to-earth research and development and persistent investment can we win the battle for key core technologies. From this point of view, there are similarities between the robot industry and the semiconductor industry, and both need to be calm and calm.
With the advent of the era of robot+, we sincerely hope that more domestic chip manufacturers can grasp the trend and stand at the forefront of the storm.

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