Report: North American Robot Orders Drop for Second Straight Quarter

A slowing U.S. economy and high interest rates have taken a toll on robot orders in North America, resulting in a decline for the second quarter in a row, according to a report by the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) in Ann Arbor.
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Fanuc robot
After a post-COVID-19 surge in robot orders, the market has cooled in the last two quarters due to slower economic conditions caused by inflation and rising interest rates. // Photo courtesy of Fanuc

A slowing U.S. economy and high interest rates have taken a toll on robot orders in North America, resulting in a decline for the second quarter in a row, according to a report by the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) in Ann Arbor.

After record purchases in 2021 and 2022, the report indicates companies ordered 7,697 robots valued at $457 million from April to July 2023, a 37 percent decline in robot orders and a 20 percent drop in value over the same period in 2022.

When combined with first quarter results, the robotics market in North America is down 29 percent compared to the first half of last year with a total of 16,865 robots ordered. This drop comes after a record 2022, when North American companies ordered 44,196 robots, up 11 percent over 2021, the previous record.

“Over the last five years, we’ve seen a steady acceleration of robot orders as all industries have struggled with a labor shortage and more non-automotive companies recognize the tremendous value automation provides,” says Alex Shikany, vice president of membership and business intelligence at A3.

”After this post-COVID-19 surge, however, we’re seeing a drawback in purchases, exacerbated by the slow economy and high interest rates. While many companies continue to automate, others just don’t have the capital to invest right now, despite their struggle to find workers willing to do many of the dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs that remain unfilled.”

The ongoing labor shortage, especially in manufacturing (down another 2,000 jobs in July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) remains a key driver of automation. An increasing trend toward reshoring tasks here in North America is another contributing factor.

“Record attendance at tradeshows such as Automate in Detroit this year show even greater interest in robotics and automation than ever before, but as these numbers show, not all are ready or able to pull the trigger just yet,” says Jeff Burnstein, president of A3. “When the economy improves, however, the companies who have learned about the latest innovations in automation and how they can help them increase productivity, deal with labor shortages and get to market faster will be ready.”

Non-automotive customers ordered more robots in the second quarter of 2023 than automotive customers, with 52 percent units going to non-automotive industries and 48 percent going to automotive OEMs and component suppliers. Both categories were down compared to the second quarter of last year, however, with non-automotive orders down 21 percent and automotive orders down 49 percent.

The strongest demand in Q2 came from the semiconductor and electronics industries, followed by life sciences/pharma and biomedical, plastics and rubber, and metals, with automotive components, food and consumer goods, and automotive OEMs showing the biggest drops.