North American Robot Orders in 1Q Surge 20% Over 2020

Robot orders in the first quarter of 2021 were up 20 percent over the same period in 2020, according to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) in Ann Arbor.
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ABB Robot
First quarter 2021 robot orders were up 20 percent over the same period in 2020. // Photo courtesy ABB Robotics
ABB Robot
First quarter 2021 robot orders were up 20 percent over the same period in 2020.
// Photo courtesy ABB Robotics

Robot orders in the first quarter of 2021 were up 20 percent over the same period in 2020, according to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) in Ann Arbor.

Increases in robot purchases came from companies in metals (up 86 percent), life sciences/pharmaceutical/biomed (up 72 percent), food and consumer goods (up 32 percent), and other non-automotive industries (12 percent).

North American companies purchased 9,098 units valued at $466 million in Q1, with non-automotive companies purchasing 28 percent more robots over Q1 2020 and automotive OEMs and component suppliers combined seeing a 12 percent increase year-over-year.

The Q1 for robot orders was the second-best start to any year on record (2017) and the second-best quarter on record for non-automotive orders, behind Q4 of 2020, according to A3. Q4 2020 also was the second-best quarter ever for North America robot sales with a 64 percent increase over Q4 2019. In 2020 overall, for the first time, yearly orders of robots from non-automotive sectors surpassed automotive robot orders, as sales of robotic units in North America increased 4 percent in 2020 from 2019.

“Robot sales have increased considerably as more and more companies in every industry recognize that robotics and automation can help them compete globally,” says Jeff Burnstein, president of A3. “While advances in robot technology, ease of use, and new applications remain key drivers in robot adoption, worker shortages in manufacturing, warehousing, and other industries are a significant factor in the current expansion of robot use that we’re now seeing. COVID didn’t create the move toward automation, but certainly has accelerated trends that already were underway.”

While robotic purchases from automotive manufacturers can be highly cyclical, the increase from non-automotive companies, especially in metals, life sciences, and food and consumer goods, shows a promising outlook for the growth of the robotics and automation industry overall, Burnstein notes.

“We expect increasing demand for robotics and automation to continue in North America and throughout the world after the pandemic has ended,” Burnstein adds. “We also expect that the increased use of automation will help companies be better prepared to face any future pandemics.”

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