North American robotics market sets new records in 2012

A total of 22,598 robots, valued at $1.48 billion were sold to companies in North America in 2012, beating the previous record of 19,337 robots sold in 2011, Robotic Industries Association said.


The North American robotics market has recorded its strongest year ever in 2012, according to new statistics released Feb. 5 from Robotic Industries Association (RIA), an industry trade group based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

ABB Robotics upper left, Rethink Robotics Dexter upper right, Yaskawa Motoman lower left, Universal Robots, lower right (photos courtesy of respective companies, except lower right by CFE Media)

A total of 22,598 robots valued at $1.48 billion were sold to companies in North America in 2012, beating the previous record of 19,337 robots sold in 2011. When sales by North American robot suppliers to companies outside North America are included, the totals are 25,557 robots valued at $1.66 billion.

Compared to 2011, North American orders were up 17% in units and 27% in dollars. “The Automotive industry has continued to be the strongest driver of the North American robotics market,” said Alex Shikany, director of market analysis for RIA. “Robots sold to automotive OEMs in North America jumped 47% over a then record-setting 2011, while robots sold to automotive component suppliers increased 21%,” he noted.

Sales were also up in metalworking industries (+12%) and life sciences/pharmaceuticals (+3%). In terms of applications, increases were seen in assembly (+40%), spot welding (+37%), arc welding (+24%), coating & dispensing (+13%), and material handling (+3%).

Fourth-quarter 2012 was the strongest quarter ever recorded by RIA (the association began reporting data in 1984) in terms of units ordered, with 6,235 robots sold to North American companies. The fourth quarter was up nine percent in units and 21% in dollars over the same period in 2011.

“It is promising to see such positive growth in robotics despite the tumultuous manufacturing environment throughout 2012” said Jeff Burnstein, president of RIA. “This growth is an indication that more North American companies are looking to automate in order to reduce costs and increase productivity, and that is a good sign for robotics.”

RIA estimates that some 225,000 robots are now at use in United States factories, placing the U.S. second only to Japan in robot use. “Many observers believe that only about 10% of the US companies that could benefit from robots have installed any so far,” Burnstein said, “and among those that have the most to gain from robots are small- and medium-sized companies.”

What will 2013 hold? Burnstein said RIA does not make robotics sales forecasts but he believes that if the economy remains strong we should be looking at another good year for the robotics industry.

Henrik I. Christensen, Kuka Chair of Robotics at the College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology, and director of the Center for Robotics and Intelligent Machines, was a keynote presenter at the co-located ProMat 2013 and Automate 2013 events in“The increased demand for robotics was evident at this year’s Automate show in Chicago [image shows some news from Automate 2013], which had record setting attendance levels,” said Burnstein. “It is clear that people are excited about automation and the benefits it provides.”

Founded in 1974, RIA represents some 300 companies, including leading robot manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, research groups and consulting firms. RIA’s quarterly statistics report is based on data supplied by member companies representing an estimated 90% of the North American market.

- Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, Plant Engineering,

See more comments from Burnstein and others about robotic productivity and the positive impact on manufacturing jobs, along with links to recent robotic developments.

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