The Robotic Industries Association today reported that robot orders in North America for the first quarter of 2019 declined slightly in comparison with the first quarter of last year. However, the decrease in purchases by automative suppliers is cyclical and no cause for alarm, said RIA officials.
From January through March 2019, North American companies ordered a total of 7,876 robots worth $423 million, said the RIA. That’s 3.5% fewer units and 3.2% less in value than in the first quarter of 2018. Here are some of the declines:
- Electronics: -17%
- Metals: -17%
- Automotive component suppliers: -16%
- Plastics and rubber: -16%
“[Some RIA] members have told me that slowing capital expenditures were a factor,” said Alex Shikany, vice president of membership and business intelligence at the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the parent organization of the RIA.
While some robotics companies have blamed the latest U.S. government shutdown and trade tensions with China for a drop in orders, there isn’t yet data to support that conclusion, he told The Robot Report.
In terms of shipments or installations rather than orders, 7,577 robots, valued at $452 million, were shipped in North America in Q1 2019, said the RIA. That’s a decline of 29% in units and close to 11% in dollars from the same period last year.
“According to the IFR [International Federation of Robotics], global shipments in 2018 grew by approximately 1%, which was down from their forecasted increase of 10% to begin the year,” Shikany said. “They haven’t released Q1 data yet, but I anticipate it will show results similar to what North America experienced.”
Bright spots for industrial automation
However, orders from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the automotive sector were up 41%, and food and consumer goods makers increased their orders by 32%, noted the RIA. In addition, Q1 2019 orders were higher than Q4 2018 by 16% in units and almost 9% in revenue.
“We are coming off a record year in 2018, so slight declines aren’t unexpected, and long-term signs remain very healthy,” stated Jeff Burnstein, president of the RIA. He noted that attendance at April’s Automate 2019 increased 25% from the 2017 event.
“Many of the Automate show attendees are just beginning to explore how robotics and automation can help their companies become stronger global competitors,” Burnstein added. “Their expected purchases over the next year or so should help the industry grow going forward.”
“Capex surveys from Q2 suggest there is more optimism now than at the end of ’18 and into Q1, which we see as a positive leading indicator,” said Shikany. “The automotive component segment has remained strong yet is similarly cyclical over time.”
“I believe [OEM cycles] to be the primary driver of the recent movements in that category, along with other factors like company reorganizations, the autonomous and electric vehicle race, and the fact it’s a more mature market today,” he said. “Non-automotive industries have been growing steadily for the most part over the past six quarters. For example, general industry orders grew 17% in 2018, while orders in the automotive industry contracted by 33%.”
In addition to the RIA, A3 includes AIA — Advancing Vision + Imaging, the Motion Control & Motor Association (MCMA), and A3 Mexico. A3 represents a total of more than 1,200 automation manufacturers, component suppliers, systems integrators, end users, research groups, and consulting firms from around the world.