The automotive industry traditionally accounts for more than 60 percent of the North American robot market, but through the first nine months of 2018 orders for non-automotive companies have surged to record highs, according to the Robotic Industries Association.
RIA reports that the automotive number was down to 52 percent of the total market. Non-automotive orders accounted for 48 percent. That is the closest these two segments have been in the history of RIA's reporting, dating to 1984, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based trade association said.
The trade group said automotive robot orders declined through the period while non-automotive orders increased.
"We've been saying for years that the future growth of robotics depended upon reaching beyond traditional customers in automotive, and now we're finally seeing that happen on a broader scale," said Jeff Burnstein, president of Robotic Industries Association in Ann Arbor.
Among the non-automotive sectors that set new records in the first nine months of 2018 were life sciences (up 30 percent), food and consumer goods (up 24 percent), plastics and rubber (up 16 percent) and electronics (up 14 percent).
Robotic Industries Association officials believe that as robots have become more dexterous, safer and available in a wider variety of forms, they have become more appealing to new users in a range of industries.
"Despite the cyclical swing in automotive orders, which we've seen before, interest in new robotics technologies continues to grow," Burnstein said. "Today's robotics industry offers innovative products, competitive advantages and fulfilling employment opportunities for a wide variety of companies."
A total of 28,158 robots, valued at $1.39 billion, were shipped to North American companies in the first nine months of 2018, an increase of 9 percent in units, but a decline of 7 percent in revenue over the same period of 2017.
Overall orders declined, and the mix changed, showing future market expectations. A total of 22,708 robots, valued at $1.31 billion, were ordered in the first nine months, down 17 percent in units and 11 percent in revenue from the first nine months of 2017. The 10,878 units ordered by non-automotive companies were 24 percent higher than the previous record, set last year, according to RIA. Orders to automotive decreased 36 percent, to 11,830 units through September.