Robot Orders Rise in 2004

North American manufacturers purchased nearly 15,000 robots last year, says industry trade group.

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North American robot suppliers saw a second straight year of sturdy growth in 2004, according to figures released recently by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based trade organization.

New orders for the year totaled 16,129 robots valued at $1.06 billion, for gains of 25 percent in units and 16 percent in revenue, the RIA said. Shipments, meanwhile, increased by 10 percent in units to 14,410, while revenues rose by 4 percent to $965.1 million.

The bulk of the business came from U.S. manufacturers. North American companies purchased 14,838 robots in 2004, marking the industry’s second best unit total ever, the RIA said.

“It’s clear that more and more companies recognize that robots can play a key role in keeping manufacturing jobs in North America,” said Donald A. Vincent, RIA executive vice president. “As the capabilities of robots have increased and the overall costs have fallen, manufacturing in North America using robots is an increasingly viable alternative to sending manufacturing jobs overseas to low-cost producers.”

Broadening base

The trade group said that robot orders by North American automotive manufacturers and suppliers accounted for about 64 percent of the total in 2004, down from 68 percent in 2003. That shift is an indication that robot usage is continuing to expand beyond its traditional base in the automotive industry, Vincent said. He noted that robots are gaining traction for use in a diverse range of non-automotive industries, including food, pharmaceuticals, electronics, aerospace and life sciences.

The 2004 results follow upon strong gains in 2003, when North American robot orders grew by 19 percent, the RIA pointed out. However, Vincent was quick to caution that such large gains can’t be expected every year. “The last two years have been very good in large part due to the pent-up demand during 2001 and 2002, when manufacturing companies were cutting capital equipment expenditures,” said Vincent. “Once they resumed buying, robots were near the top of their shopping lists, and we’ve seen the results. Whether or not this continues in 2005 depends upon many economic factors,” Vincent noted. “However, the long-term prospects for the robotics industry remain outstanding.”

The RIA estimates that some 144,000 robots are now being used in the United States, a number second only to Japan in terms of robot deployment.

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