FRANKFURT, June 20 (Reuters) - Growth in German sales of robotics and automation equipment, an engine of the country's export-driven economy, is expected to accelerate to 7 percent this year, lifted by demand from foreign manufacturers.
German mechanical engineering association VDMA said on Tuesday it expected sales of robotics and automation equipment to reach 13.7 billion euros ($15.3 billion) in 2017.
That would mark a pickup from 5 percent growth last year and would beat the 2 percent sales growth expected for Germany's wider mechanical engineering sector.
"The German industry players are benefiting from a robust economy in the global race to modernise industry," Norbert Stein, chairman of the VDMA's robotics and automation association, said.
In the first four months of the year, sales jumped by 13 percent even as domestic demand declined thanks to revenue from overseas. Order intake, an indicator of future sales, rose even more steeply, at a rate of 27 percent.
Germany exported 57 percent of its robotics and automation equipment last year, with China accounting for 10 percent of sales, making it the sector's biggest single market.
Leading providers include industrial robot maker Kuka , which was bought by Chinese home appliance maker Midea, and industrial group Siemens. Other global leaders in standard industrial robots are Switzerland's ABB and Japan's Fanuc.
Global demand for industrial robots is rising as labour costs increase and technology becomes more sophisticated, allowing robots to do more delicate work than in the past.
The VDMA's more than 3,000 members - which include large industrial groups such as Siemens and Linde as well as many smaller, family-owned firms - generated around 220 billion euros of sales last year and employ more than a million people. ($1 = 0.8947 euros) (Reporting by Maria Sheahan)