North American robotics manufacturers saw improved sales in terms of units sold and dollars in the first half of 2004, says the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). North American manufacturers ordered nearly 7,900 robots valued at $473.3 million through June, a 12% increase in units sold over the first half of 2003 and a 6% rise in dollars. The number of robots sold outside the United States was 687, a gain of 226% in units over the same period a year ago. An improving North American economy helped boost sales, says Donald A. Vincent, RIA executive vice president. Additionally, "The need to produce higher quality product at a lower price, and to be fast and flexible enough to compete with competitors throughout the world, is leading many companies to buy robots." While automakers continue to be the largest market for robots, non-automotive sectors are making gains, Vincent said. "We're seeing very healthy gains in industries such as semiconductors and electronics, metals, plastics and rubber, food and consumer goods, and life sciences and pharmaceuticals," he says. The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based RIA estimates that some 140,000 industrial robots are in use in the U.S.