North American-based robotics companies are having one of their best years ever, with orders up 41% through September 2011, according to the latest report from the Robotics Industries Assn (RIA). "In the first nine months of the year, the industry has received orders for more robots than in all of 2010, which was also a very good year," said Jeff Burnstein, RIA president.
A total of 13,616 robots valued at $848.5 million were ordered in the first nine months by companies in North America. When orders to companies outside North America are included, the totals rise to 15,683 robots with a value of $968 million.
Automotive OEMs and components suppliers are the biggest customers, accounting for 53% of the new orders. Sales to these segments, which are traditionally the largest for the robotics industry, rose 56% through September. "Everyone from Tier suppliers to the automotive OEMs have really accelerated their purchases this year, with orders jumping 84%," Burnstein noted.
Burnstein told PlasticsToday that he thinks this jump in automation orders is related to the "drive for quality and the need to be globally competitive." When asked about the role that a shortage of skilled labor might play, he noted that the relative dearth of qualified employees "is certainly a factor, but I believe that quality and competitive issues are the major reasons for the upturn this year."
The biggest applications gains so far in 2011 are in assembly (+97%), coating and dispensing (+71%), arc welding (+60%), spot welding (+47%), and material handling (+28%).
"The long-term outlook for robotics in North America remains very strong as more and more companies in all industries become aware of the positive impact robots have on productivity, quality, manufacturing costs, and time to market," said John Dulchinos, chair of RIA's Statistics Committee and president and CEO at automation supplier, Adept Technology (Pleasanton, CA).
RIA estimates that some 210,000 robots are now in use in United States factories, making the U.S. second only to Japan in robot use. In spite of that, overall adoption rates indicate the potential for huge growth in the future. "Many observers believe that only about 10% of the U.S. companies that could benefit from robots have installed any so far," Burnstein said.