For the first time, yearly orders of robots from non-automotive sectors surpassed automotive robot orders, as sales of robotic units in North America increased 3.5% in 2020 from 2019. This growth was driven by a strong Q4 that was the second-best quarter ever for North American robotic sales with a 63.6% increase over Q4 2019.
Industry statistics released today by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), show North American companies ordered 31,044 robotic units, valued at $1.572 billion in 2020. In Q4, companies ordered 9,972 units valued at $479 million.
“The surge in robot orders that we’re seeing, despite the pandemic, demonstrates the growing interest in robotic and automation solutions,” said A3 president Jeff Burnstein. “It’s promising to see the growth of robotics in new applications and reaching a wider group of users than ever before.”
Year-over-year orders in life sciences increased by 69%, food and consumer goods grew by 56%, and plastics and rubber saw a 51% increase. Automotive orders increased 39% in 2020.
“In 2020, we saw two trends in particular that propelled growth in non-automotive orders for robotics technology,” said John Bubnikovich, Chief Regional Officer – North America, KUKA Robotics. “First, the automation competence level in general industry has grown, and that matured into greater demand for the technology. Second, consumer behavior shifted significantly and the expectations created by this shift were tough to satisfy without automation.”
The same trends are being noticed by other major robot manufacturers.
“With the changes in people’s personal buying behavior caused by COVID, robots have been utilized in record numbers to allow for the fulfillment of orders in the e-commerce space while allowing for correct social distancing practices,” said Dean Elkins, Segment Leader – Handling, Yaskawa Motoman. “In addition, robots largely aided in the production of personal protection and testing equipment and the medical devices needed to keep our society healthy and safe.”
“We have seen a substantial increase in activity in non-automotive sectors, as customers focus on making their production lines more flexible and better able to efficiently achieve high mix, lower volume production in response to constantly evolving customer demands,” said Mark Joppru, Vice President – Consumer Segment & Service Robotics, US ABB Robotics and Machine Automation. “In food applications, for example, where robots were traditionally used to automate simpler processes like case loading, they are increasingly being commissioned for higher value processes, like directly preparing food, resulting in improvements to food safety and hygiene. While these trends have existed for several years, COVID has changed perceptions and priorities for customers, accelerating the adoption of robotic automation.”
Burnstein joined The Robot Report Podcast today to discuss these numbers in-depth. You can listen to the podcast below. The interview with Burnstein starts at the 1:34 mark.