North American robotics companies took it on the chin in 2006, when steep declines in automotive industry sales led to a 30 percent drop in new robot orders. But things may be looking up.
Auto industry orders were up by 25 percent in this year’s first quarter when compared to the same quarter last year, according to new statistics released by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry’s trade group, based in Ann Arbor, Mich. Overall, the RIA said, North American robotics companies posted gains of 12 percent in new orders during the first quarter of 2007. New orders from non-automotive companies actually declined by 9 percent.
A total of 4,153 robots valued at $260.6 million were sold to North American manufacturing firms through March, the RIA said. When sales to companies outside North America are included, the totals are 4,559 robots valued at $279.2 million, a gain of 14 percent in units and a decline of 2 percent in revenue.
‘‘It’s encouraging to see new orders growing again,’‘ said Donald A. Vincent, the RIA’s executive vice president. ‘‘This is the highest number of robots we’ve seen ordered in a quarter since midway through 2005.’‘
Besides the the 25 percent jump in automotive industry orders, other sectors where the RIA saw order growth in the first quarter include life sciences/pharmaceutical/biomedical (up 48 percent) and plastics and rubber (up 9 percent). ‘‘While these are relatively small market segments for robot suppliers, we’re encouraged to see them growing and look forward to future increases as robots gain more traction in these industries,’‘ Vincent commented.
From an applications standpoint, the first quarter saw growth in orders for robots that perform spot welding, coating/dispensing, and material handling applications. ‘‘We’re not surprised by the growth in spot welding since that application is closely tied to automotive,’‘ said Vincent.
The RIA estimates that some 168,000 robots are now in use in U.S. factories, placing the United States second only to Japan in overall robot use.
Robotic Industries Assocation