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Robot Sales Drop

Auto industry downturn leads to a 38 percent decline in first half 2006 robot orders in North America, but non-automotive markets show smaller declines.

New orders received by North American-based robotics companies fell 38 percent in the first half of 2006, according to statistics released by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry’s trade group based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Most of the losses occurred as a result of the cyclical downturn in robot sales to the automotive industry, where new orders were down 52 percent, the RIA said. However, sales to non-automotive companies fell just 5 percent, and actually showed increases in food and consumer goods, life sciences/pharmaceutical/biomedical, and general industry. Overall, non-automotive robot sales accounted for 45 percent of the new orders through June, up from 29 percent midway through 2005, according to RIA figures.

“The long term success of the robotics industry depends upon growth in non-automotive markets, so we’re encouraged by the relatively good results, especially when you consider that 2005 was the best year ever for North American robot sales,” said RIA Executive Vice President Donald A. Vincent.

Assembly robot gains

While most application areas showed declines through June, 33 percent growth was recorded in new orders for assembly robots as well as for material removal robots, said Vincent. “Since assembly robots are used primarily in non-automotive applications, this is further evidence of continued penetration into new areas for robotics.”

A total of 6,607 robots valued at $473.5 million were ordered by North American companies through June. When orders from companies outside North America are included, total sales for North American robot suppliers totaled 7,141 robots valued at $501.4 million. The totals represent a decline of 37 percent in units and 26 percent in revenue.

Vincent said the RIA thinks the sharp decline in overall robot orders may continue for a while as the automotive industry digests its large purchases made in the last few years. “In addition, continued economic difficulties in the automotive industry are likely to slow their investments in new technologies, not just robotics,” he said.

The RIA estimates that some 162,000 robots are now installed in American factories, placing the United States second only to Japan in robot use.

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