North American robotics companies set new records for first half of 2013

Shipments break 2012 record by 11.0% in units and 10.4% in dollars.

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North American robotics companies have set new sales records through June of 2013, according to new statistics released from Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry’s trade group.

A total of 10,854 robots valued at $679.3 million were ordered from North American robotics companies in the first six months of 2013, an increase of 1.9% in units over the same period in 2012 and 1.3% above the previous first-half record set in 2005.

Shipments to North American customers through June totaled 11,308 robots valued at $715.1 million, breaking the previous first-half records set in 2012 by 11.0% in units and 10.4% in dollars. Overall, three out of the four orders and shipments categories tracked by RIA set new records.

“The advancements in robotics and machine vision technology have allowed for new applications in materials handling, especially in picking, packing and palletizing,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of RIA, in a recent interview. “Giving the robots the ability to ‘see’ allows warehousing and distribution facilities the ability to be faster, more productive and competitive while reducing costs.”

Although the automotive industry accounts for 60% of robotics orders in North America, activity was especially strong in non-automotive industries such as semiconductors and electronics (up 89%), life sciences and pharmaceutical (up 51.4%), and food and consumer goods (up 37%).. In the auto industry segment, traditionally highly cyclical, orders through June were up sharply to tier suppliers, down to OEMs, for an overall decline of 5%.

“While the automotive industry is still the largest customer for robotics in North America, it is great to see such positive growth in other industries,” said Burnstein. “North American robotics companies continue to diversify the industries they serve, which is a positive sign for the long term health of our industry.”

RIA estimates that some 230,000 robots are now at use in United States factories, placing the US second only to Japan in robot use. “Many observers believe that only about 10% of the US companies that could benefit from robots have installed any so far,” Burnstein said. “A very large segment of small and medium sized companies who may have the most to gain are just now beginning to seriously investigate robotics.”

Much like advancements in computing technology has reduced the costs of computers, the same holds true for advancements in robotic technology, said Burnstein. “There has been an explosion of new technologies introduced in the robotics field over the last few years. User interfaces are simpler. Gripper technology has improved. Better vision guided systems have opened up robots to new manufacturing opportunities. The reduced costs allow more companies, even small and medium sized companies, to invest in automation. More demand and supply also helps lower costs. The lower costs of robots allow small and medium sized companies the ability to realize a quicker return on their investment.”

Founded in 1974, RIA represents some 300 companies, including leading robot manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, research groups and consulting firms. RIA’s quarterly statistics report is based on data supplied by member companies representing an estimated 90% of the North American market.

About the Author

Josh Bond, Contributing Editor
Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.

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