Last year was a dismal one for industrial machinery, and robots shared in the pain but the worst appears to be over, according to the Robotic Industries Association.
Ann Arbor-based RIA reported that a total of 9,451 robots were ordered by North American manufacturing companies in 2009, down 25 percent from 2008. Dollar sales fell 36 percent, to close out 2009 at $569.2 million.
In the fourth quarter of 2009, unit orders were flat compared with the fourth quarter of 2008. Dollar sales were down 5 percent.
We hope that the stabilization we saw in the fourth quarter is a sign that the worst is behind us now, said Tammy Mulcahy, an official of ABB Robotics in Auburn Hills, Mich., who chairs RIA's statistics committee.
Automotive, a key market for robots, was a mixed bag in 2009. RAI said orders from automakers increased 5 percent, but orders from suppliers to the automotive industry collapsed 49 percent.
The tier suppliers have suffered enormously during the painful restructuring of the automotive industry, which has had a noticeable impact on their investments in capital equipment, said Jeff Burnstein, president of the Robotic Industries Association.
Burnstein cited two bright spots for robots that emerged last year. Orders rose by 43 percent in the category of life sciences/pharmaceutical/biomedical, while food and consumer-goods orders rose 7 percent.
RIA estimates that 194,000 industrial robots are now used in the U.S., second only to Japan.
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