North American robot sales set record

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The robots are on the march!

The North American robotics sector is off to its fastest start ever, shattering last year’s first-half record, with a first-half 2014 of 14,135 robots, valued at $788 million, ordered from suppliers in the region, according to the Robotic Industries Association.

That marks an increase of 30 percent in units and 16 percent in revenue over the first half of 2013.

The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based trade association said the second quarter was especially robust — and the best single quarter ever — with 8,197 robots valued at $450 million sold to North American customers.

RIA officials said the automotive industry had the biggest impact in the skyrocketing second quarter, nearly doubling the level of orders from the second quarter in 2013, and for the first half, up by 36 percent year-over-year. But strong demand came from all manufacturing sectors. Non-automotive sectors such as semiconductors, life sciences, food and consumer goods grew by 22 percent over the first half of 2013.

Alex Shikany, RIA’s director of market analysis, called the diversity “a very positive sign for the long-term health of the industry.”

RAI estimates about 230,000 robots are now running at U.S. factories. Only Japan has more industrial robots, the trade group said.

RIA President Jeff Burnstein said falling unemployment and reshoring are combining to drive investment in automation.

“In 2010, after one of the worst recessions in our nation’s history, unemployment in the U.S. was nearing 10 percent,” Burnstein said. “Since then, amidst record years for robot sales, unemployment has steadily fallen toward pre-recession levels. The unemployment rate reached 6.1 percent in June of this year, the lowest it has been since September of 2008.” And automation is helping bring work back to the United States, he said.

The moral: Do not fear the robots.

“While we often hear that robots are job killers, just the opposite is true. Robots save and create jobs,” Burnstein said.