Report: Non-automotive Orders for Robots Surge in 2020

For the first time, annual orders of robots from non-automotive sectors surpassed automotive robot orders in North America, according to a new report from the Association for Advancing Automation in Ann Arbor.
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manufacturing robot
Robot orders from non-automotive sectors surpassed automotive robot orders for the first time in 2020. // Stock photos

For the first time, annual orders of robots from non-automotive sectors surpassed automotive robot orders in North America, according to a new report from the Association for Advancing Automation in Ann Arbor.

The growth was driven by a strong fourth quarter that was the second-best quarter ever for North American robotic sales, with a 63.6 percent increase from the previous year’s fourth quarter.

The Robotic Industries Association, part of the Association for Advancing Automation, reports that North American companies ordered 31,044 robotic units last year, valued at nearly $1.6 billion. The activity represented a 3.5-percent boost from 2019 sales. In the fourth quarter of 2020, companies were especially bullish and ordered 9,972 units valued at $479 million.

“The surge in robot orders that we’re seeing, despite the pandemic, demonstrates the growing interest in robotic and automation solutions,” says Jeff Burnstein, president of the association. “It’s promising to see the growth of robotics in new applications and reaching a wider group of users than ever before.”

Year-over-year orders for robotics in life sciences increased by 69 percent, food and consumer goods grew by 56 percent, and plastics and rubber saw a 51 percent increase. Automotive orders increased 39 percent during the year.

In August 2020, the association reported on the strain to supply chain and economic uncertainty due to COVID-19. Alex Shikany, vice president of membership and business intelligence for the association, noted that despite a drop in orders, industry leaders showed optimism about the remainder of 2020 and accurately predicted the strong finish to the year.

“The pandemic has created a sense of urgency for manufacturing companies to invest in automation like never before,” said Mike Cicco, president and CEO of Fanuc America in Rochester Hills. “Traditionally, companies have implemented automation to reduce cost, increase output, and improve quality.

“However, the pandemic has added an additional factor that is driving manufacturers to re-examine their supply chain to increase flexibility, minimize disruptions, and move it closer to their customers.

“With this mindset, there are more opportunities for scaling robotic applications across multiple facilities, especially for larger companies. The untapped potential for automation is a promising sign for our industry; the opportunities for automation today are truly limitless.”

The association is hosting a free virtual automation trade show and conference on robotics and automation from March 22-26 titled Automate Forward. Registration is available here.

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