North American robotics market posts strongest opening quarter ever

Year-on-year orders up 7%

The North American robotics market has set new records to begin 2016, according to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA; Ann Arbor, MI), the industry’s trade group. A total of 7,406 robots valued at approximately $402 million were ordered from North American companies during the first quarter of 2016, which is a new record among opening quarters, growing 7% over the same period in 2015.

Order revenue, however, decreased by 8% in the first quarter.

ABBott Tower
ABB Robotics announced the sale in March of 250 robots to Valmet Automotive.

Robot shipments also set a new opening quarter record, with 7,125 robots valued at $448 million being shipped to North American customers. This represents growth of 2% in units and 21% in dollars over the same quarter of last year, said the RIA report.

“It is encouraging to see so many new companies adopting robotics for use in their operations,” said Jeff Burnstein, President of RIA. “Companies of all sizes are realizing that robots are more affordable than ever before and can help them increase their productivity to remain competitive in today’s global economy.”

Growth in non-automotive industries soared in the first quarter of 2016. Robot orders from the semiconductor and electronics industries were up 90%; food and consumer goods demand increased 82%; and plastics and rubber grew 44%. All these industries experienced sizable increases over the same period in 2015.

While it is still the largest industry in terms of volume for robotics, orders for robots from the automotive industry grew only 1% in the first quarter of 2016. In terms of applications, the biggest increases were realized in spot welding (31%), assembly (15%) and material handling (6%).

“Today, more than ever, robots can handle complex tasks at fast speeds, leading to high productivity for customers,” commented Burnstein. “Disruptive innovations like collaborative robots are helping to drive adoption of robotics in new and exciting ways, and that is promising for the future of our industry.”

Demand for robotic systems in the automotive industry is high in Europe, as well. ABB Robotics, a global supplier of industrial robots headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, announced the sale in March of 250 robots to Valmet Automotive for use at its Mercedes-Benz GLC SUV body shop in Uusikaupunki, Finland. Production of the GLC sport utility vehicle will begin in early 2017.  ABB’s Pekka Tiitinen, President of Discrete Automation and Motion, said, “ABB’s flexible and intelligent manufacturing technologies will help Valmet Automotive reduce investment costs, increase productivity and respond quickly to market demands.”

ABB Robotics also offers robotic software, peripheral equipment and modular manufacturing cells for tasks such as welding, handling, assembly, and painting and finishing. Key markets for the company include automotive, plastics, metal fabrication, foundry, electronics, machine tools, pharmaceuticals and the food and beverage industries. The company operates in 100 countries and has 135,000 employees.

The RIA’s Burnstein noted that RIA and its sister group AIA, Advancing Vision + Imaging, are seeing the impact of growth in demand for robotics and related automation in events like the International Collaborative Robots Workshop and The Vision Show, held May 3 to 5 in Boston, and the upcoming International Collaborative Robots Workshop on October 20, 2016, in Cincinnati. RIA estimates that some 262,000 robots are now in use in North American factories, which is third to Japan and China in robot use.

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