Fueled by its best quarter in six years, the North American robotics industry jumped 41% in the first half of 2011, according to new statistics released by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA).
During the first six months of 2011, a total of 8,879 robots valued at $577.8 million were ordered by North American companies, according to a report released last week by RIA.
"This was the best first half for our industry since 2007," said RIA President Jeff Burnstein.
The second quarter was particularly strong, posting gains of 50% in units and 55% in dollars over the same period in 2010.
Burnstein attributed the majority of growth to increased orders from automotive manufacturers and their suppliers, traditionally the largest customer for robotics.
"With the revitalization of the auto industry in the U.S., robot orders to these customers rose 60% in the first half of the year," he said.
Non-automotive orders increased 23% through June, led by gains in metalworking (up 70%).
"Food and consumer-goods customers placed orders for 60% more robots in the second quarter of 2011 than in the first, hopefully a sign of strong growth going forward in this sector," he noted.
"The North American robotics industry is on pace for its best year since 2005 in terms of new-order volumes, but this could be threatened if there is an economic downturn caused by the lack of an agreement in Washington on raising the debt ceiling," Burnstein observed.
Burnstein did cite one recent positive development from Washington: the creation of a $500 million Advanced Manufacturing Partnership that includes $70 million for a National Robotics Initiative.
"This could have a very positive long-term effect in keeping the U.S. a leader in robotics, both inside the factory and in a wide range of non-industrial robotics sectors," he said.
RIA estimates that some 205,000 robots are now used in the United States. More than 1 million industrial robots are used worldwide.