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Industrial automation equipment/robotics seeing strong growth

It looks like 2014 is going to be a banner year for the industrial automation equipment (IAE) market, after two sluggish years. Two reports reveal that 2014 is off to a healthy start as the global market for industrial automation equipment is gaining strength. IHS Technology reports that two factors account for this: strengthening economies and technological innovations, both of which are expected to boost demand.

IHS Technology projects that worldwide revenue in 2014 for the IAE market will reach $185.3 billion, up 7% from $173.0 billion in 2013. This year marks the return of more vigorous activity after the industry managed only middling revenue increases of 1.2 and 3.4% in 2012 and 2013 respectively. The healthy expansion is set to continue after this year, with industry revenues forecast to hit $225.0 billion by 2017.

"Following two years of weak development in the IAE trade, 2014 will see stronger market conditions that will help generate business opportunities," said Jenalea Howell, associate director for rotating machines & controls. "In particular, the stabilizing economies of China and Europe will be beneficial to spurring growth this year in overall industrial automation, allowing the market to outstrip last year's performance."

The Robotics Industries Association (RIA) said in its latest statistics report that the North American robotics market posted its best quarter ever in Q2, and set a new record for the first half of 2014. A record 14,135 robots, valued at $788 million were ordered from North American robotics companies in the first half of 2014, an increase of 30% in units and 16% in revenue over the same period in 2013.

The second quarter of 2014 was the main driver of the market's record first half, with 8,197 robots valued at $450 million sold to North American customers. This performance shattered the previous record for a single quarter, exceeding the fourth quarter of 2012 by 31% in units and 17% in revenue, said the RIA.

Since 2010, the robots market in North America has grown an average of 26% per year leading up to its record setting first half performance in 2014. At the same time, the unemployment rate in the United States has fallen over this period. RIA President Jeff Burnstein, noted that robotics has been a major factor in the return of manufacturing jobs to the U.S. as the U.S. achieves greater cost competitiveness. "While we often hear that robots are job killers, just the opposite is true," Burnstein added. "Robots save and create jobs."

The automotive industry had the biggest impact on the second quarter's performance, with 97% more units ordered over the same quarter in 2013. Non-automotive industries such as semiconductors, life sciences, and food and consumer goods, continued to grow by 22% ofre the first half of 2013. But the strongest growth came in automotive related industries. Robots order from automotive OEM and component industries grew by 36% in the first half of 2014.

"While the automotive industry continues to be the largest customer for robotics, it's great to see non-automotive sectors posting strong growth as well," said Alex Shikany, RIA's director of market analysis. "This is a very positive sign for the long term health of the industry."

RIA estimates that some 230,000 robots are now in use in U.S. factories, placing the U.S. second only to Japan in robot use.

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