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North American Industrial Robot Orders Steady Despite 'Challenging' 2019

Feb. 17, 2020
Revenue from selling industrial robots fell more than 10% towards the end of the year.

Research published by the Robotic Industries Association February 13 found that North American robot orders inched up 1.6% in 2019 compared to last year, including a 50.5% increase in orders from automotive OEMs. Order revenue, though, was down 1.3% from 2018, with the fourth quarter in particular representing a 10.4% decrease in orders and 4.2% weaker revenue.

The growth in OEM orders wasn’t too surprising for President of the RIA Jeff Burnstein: numbers from those industries are “cyclical,” he said. On the slowing shipments and revenue of 2019, Burnstein characterized it in a statement as a temporary lull.

“While 2019 was a challenging year, and the outlook for growth in 2020 is murky, we’re still seeing growing interest in automation technologies and solutions that will lead to continued future growth,” he said in a statement.

Despite relatively stable orders, shipments of robots in most industries were down relative to last year. Shipments of robots to automotive companies were up slightly, as were shipments to electronic makers. Automotive component, food & consumer goods, plastics & rubber, biomed, and metal companies each ordered less robots than 2018, leading the total amount of robots shipped to drop to 30,101 in 2019 from 35,880 in 2018.

Over the phone, Burnstein pointed to data released by the International Federation of Robotics on industrial robot installation trends. The IFR’s research listed a growth of 0% in 2019, followed by a 10% increase in 2020 with average growth of 12% through 2022.

Another point for optimism, according to Burnstein, is that nonautomotive manufacturers in particular are more interested in robots than they used to be. “Traditionally, automotive is accounted for 60% or more of orders,” he said over the phone. That proportion appears to be changing: “For the past two years, we have seen record levels of nonautomotive robot orders. That’s a very positive trend.”

According to RIA data, the fastest growing nonautomotive industries in terms of robotics orders are the biomedical and electronics industries. The average growth rate for those industries is 18% and 16.2%, respectively. “More and more companies who never would have considered robots are now looking at them because of advances in technology,” he said.

The most popular type of robot ordered and shipped in North America were articulated robots, robots the RIA defines as a robot with at least three rotary joints. Those robots made up 91.42% of orders and 88.18% of shipments. 54% of robots shipped in 2019 were used for material handling, while 18% and 13% used for spot welding and arc welding, respectively.

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