North American robotics market: Record year 2005 for orders, shipments


Recent news from the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) should be welcome in the manufacturing sector. North American robotics companies posted record new orders in 2005, surpassing the previous high of 1999, according to RIA’s report “T he Robotics Market: Year 2005 Results and Trends. ” Some 18,228 robot units valued at $1.16 billion were ordered by North American manufacturing companies—an increase of 23% in units and 17% in dollars over 2004. The report is based on data supplied to RIA by its 250 member companies.

Motors Drives and Motion Control

RIA’s Robotics Market report for North America in 2005 includes the distribution of new robot orders by application. For units shipped, the distribution was virtually identical, with three slight differences—spot welding (25%); other, inspection & assembly, over 10-lb capacity (2%); and material handling, under 10-lb capacity (6%).

An additional 1,217 robots were ordered by companies outside of North America, bringing overall total orders to 19,445 robots valued at $1.22 billion. This reflects gains of 21% in units and 15% in dollars over last year. Shipments of robots also set a new high in 2005, with 19,594 robots valued at $1.18 billion shipped to North American companies. When shipments to companies outside North America are included, the totals are 20,906 robots valued at $1.24 billion, representing gains of 45% in units and 28% in dollars.

RIA estimates that some 158,000 robots are now installed in American manufacturing operations, placing the U.S. second to Japan in robot usage. “Clearly, 2005 was the best year ever for the North American robotics industry,” says Donald A. Vincent, RIA executive vice president. “It’s gratifying to see the industry finally surpass the records set in 1999 when the North American economy was really booming.”

While Vincent expects long-term growth to continue, he notes “several uncertainties” in the near-term, such as:
• A slowdown of orders in 4Q05. In fourth-quarter 2005, new robot orders in North America actually declined 2% from the same period in 2004;
• Manufacturing operations continuing to move from North America; and
• Concerns about the health of the U.S. economy, compared to when the previous robot market high was established in 1999.

Concern also extends to current problems faced by the automotive industry, since automotive manufacturers and their suppliers are the largest consumers of robots in North America. “All of these factors make us cautious about the expectations for 2006,” Vincent explains.

Still, Vincent remains optimistic about the road ahead for robotics automation. “Long-term growth will be fueled by the growing realization that robotics automation can help companies survive and prosper in an increasingly competitive global manufacturing environment,” he says.

Besides large gains made in orders for automotive applications, Vincent notes that robot use jumped 30% in the life sciences, pharmaceutical, and biomedical industries in 2005. “As companies learn more about the benefits of robotics in industries where they may currently not be in widespread use, we can expect to see long term growth.”

For more information about RIA and the robotics industry, click here or contact RIA headquarters at 734-994-6088.

—Frank J. Bartos, Control Engineering, executive editor

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