Robots continue their march through North America, as automation set new records through the first nine months of 2017.
Records were set in all areas: robotics, machine vision and motion control and motor technology, according to the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Association for Advancing Automation, known as A3, in a report issued Dec. 12.
The trade association said North American robot sales reached 27,294 in the first three quarters of 2017, valued at about $1.473 billion. That marked the highest level ever recorded in that same time period
Compared to the same period of 2016, the robot sales figure represented growth of 14 percent in units and 10 percent in dollars.
A3 also reported numbers for robots actually shipped to customers in North America. Shipments of robots reached 25,939, valued at $1.496 billion in the first nine months. That represents growth of 18 percent in units and 13 percent in dollars over what was shipped in the first nine months of 2016.
The apparent mismatch in the units vs. dollar value between the two robot categories — with fewer unit shipments than sales, but generating a higher value — is because the mix of types of robots varies in each reporting period, according to Alex Shikany, director of market analysis at A3. For robots, the reporting companies do not break out, for example, beam robots vs. articulating robots, he said.
The sales numbers, representing new bookings, are forward looking, while shipments are more backward looking, Shikany said.
Automotive-related shipments grew 12 percent in units, and 9 percent in dollars. Non-automotive robot shipments gained 32 percent for units and 22 percent for dollars.
A3 said the hottest industries for robots were metals, automotive components and food and consumer goods.
For motion control and motors, shipments increased 10 percent, to $2.6 billion. Motors, at 38 percent of shipments, are the largest product category, followed by actuators and mechanical systems at 18 percent and electronic drives with 17 percent.
The majority of motion control and motor suppliers think that order and shipment volumes will increase in the next six months, but distributors feel the numbers will remain flat, A3 reported.
The North American machine vision market continued what A3 said was the segment's best-ever start to a year, with first-nine-months growth of 14 percent, to hit $1.937 billion. Systems and components both recorded a 14 percent increase. Each category set new records for the period. A3 said notable growth areas were: smart cameras, up 21 percent, to $295 million; lighting, up 20 percent, to $54 million; software, a 16 percent increase, to $15 million; and component cameras up 14 percent, to $143 million.
The Association for Advancing Automation includes three trade associations: Robotic Industries Association, AIA—Advancing Vision + Imaging, and the Motion Control and Motor Association. The association will hold the A3 Business Forum Jan. 17-19 in Orlando, Fla., and The Vision Show in Boston on April 10-12.
As of Nov. 30 this year, the trade associations have a combined membership of 1,070. That's another record.