North American industrial robot makers set a record in 2011 —19,337 robots sold in the region, valued $1.17 billion, according to the Robotic Industries Association.
North American orders were up 47 percent in units and 38 percent in dollars from 2011 — and beat the record set in 2005 by more than 1,000 robots.
Automotive-related manufacturing drove much of the increase, according to RIA in Ann Arbor. The fourth quarter of 2011 was the strongest quarter ever recorded by RIA, which began reporting data in 1984. For the 2011 fourth quarter, 5,721 robots were shipped, valued at $317.5 million.
“Robots sold to automotive component suppliers in North American jumped 77 percent over 2010, while robots sold to automotive OEMs increased 59 percent,” said Paul Kellett, RIA market analysis director.
Sales to non-automotive customers grew 27 percent, led by metalworking industries and semiconductor/electronics/photonics.
Looking at applications, RIA reports big increases in spot and arc welding, assembly, coating and dispensing, and material handling.
“Re-shoring” helped, said John Dulchinos, president and CEO of Adept Technology Inc. in Pleasanton, Calif. “I think another factor we saw in 2011 was the decision by many U.S. manufacturing companies to keep manufacturing at home by automating, and in some cases, bringing back manufacturing that had previously been sent overseas,” he said.
The report covers robots from North American firms sold to North American customers. If sales to customers outside North America are included, the total was 22,126 robots, valued at $1.35 billion.
RIA estimates 213,000 robots are now running in U.S. factories, placing the U.S. in second place, behind Japan, in total robot use.
Burnstein said there is an even bigger potential market. “Many observers believe that only about 10 percent of the U.S. companies that could benefit from robots have installed them so far,” he said.