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Auto Downturn Hits Robot Vendors

A sharp drop in auto industry robot orders pulls down nine-month 2006 totals, but smaller declines in non-automotive orders are deemed encouraging.

Aw 4759 Robotbars

New orders received by North American-based robotics companies were down by 35 percent through the first nine months of 2006, although non-automotive orders were down just 3 percent, according to new statistics released by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry’s Ann Arbor, Mich.-based trade group. 

“With robot orders from the automotive sector down 49 percent so far this year, it’s no surprise we’re in the midst of a down year for the robotics industry,” said Donald A. Vincent, RIA executive vice president. “Automotive orders are traditionally quite cyclical and were at record levels last year. We expect to see automotive orders turn up within the next year or two as automotive manufacturers and their suppliers ramp up spending for future new product launches.” 

Vincent added, however, that a relatively small decline in robot orders by non-automotive companies is encouraging. “In fact,” he said “we’ve seen modest growth in some sectors, including life sciences and pharmaceutical, and plastics and rubber.” 

Orders and shipments 

The RIA figures show that North American robotics companies received orders for 10,338 robots valued at $740 million through the first nine months this year. That’s down by 35 percent and 23 percent, respectively, from 2005, when orders during the same period totaled 15,791 robots valued at $962 million. Actual shipments by North American vendors during the first three quarters this year totaled 10,619 robots valued at $821 million. That’s a 33 percent decline in units and a 10 percent drop in dollars compared to the same period in 2005, when vendors shipped 15,759 robots valued at $914 million. 

Material handling accounts for the largest share of robot applications, totaling about 41 percent. Welding is next, at 39 percent. Assembly and dispensing/coating each account for approximately 6 percent of new orders in 2006. The RIA estimates that some 164,000 robots are now installed in American factories.

Robotic Industries Association

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