Rise of the robots
Despite the robotics industry’s record-breaking performance of the last three years, industrial automation in the U.S. has only scratched the surface of its potential.
senior editor, Plastics Technology
senior editor, Plastics Technology
For three straight years, the U.S. has set new records in the number and value of robots sold. The North American robotics market recorded its best year ever in 2013, delivering 22,591 robots valued at $1.39 billion, according to the Robotics Industries Assn. (RIA), Ann Arbor, Mich. For the year, total units were up by 11%, while sales jumped 7%.
For perspective on how fast the market is moving, consider that in 2010, when the industry posted its best year since 2007, it did so with orders of 13,174 robots valued at $845.6 million. Compared to 2013, units have exploded by 72% while the dollar value has jumped 64%.
Now consider that according to RIA, many market observers believe that only 10% of U.S. companies that could benefit from robots have installed any.
That booming—if largely untapped—market was verified by a number of automation suppliers I contacted while researching a feature on robotics in the plastics industry. That article will appear in an upcoming special supplement from Plastics Technology parent, Gardner Business Media, with additional content from PT sister publications Automotive Design & Production and Modern Machine Shop.
Difficulty in trying to schedule interviews with suppliers tipped me off to just how busy the segment has been. Eventually, conversations with Fanuc, ABB, Sepro, Engel, MGS, CBW Automation, and more painted a picture of a booming sector, with record years, highly traveled sales representatives, and frenetic shipping docks.
When I visited CBW Automation in Fort Collins, Colo., a semi had just been loaded with three newly completed automation cells. Despite moving those systems off the factory floor, inside the plant, the shop floor was already packed with new systems in various stages of completion.
I visited with Sepro during the grand opening of their new North American headquarters outside Pittsburgh. The new, expanded site for the French-headquartered robotics supplier was necessitated by record performance in the company’s largest market: North America.
At Sepro as well, work continued on systems being readied for delivery as 2014 got off to a strong start. During the open house, executives anxiously tracked order income on the last day of the quarter.
It’s not just North America that’s seeing such high interest in robotics. One of the CBW systems was headed to China, and when I finally got a hold of someone at ABB to discuss the plastics market, the individual I spoke with had just returned from Asia, where interest in automation, despite its reputation for low-cost manpower, is also extremely high.
Globally, a new report shows that the worldwide industrial controls and robotics market was worth $102.02 billion in 2012 and is expected to reach $147.7 billion in 2019, growing at a rate of 5.6% over that time. North and South America were the largest market in 2012, according to the report, due to “re-engineering in the old industrial segment along with the adoption of new technologies and increasing demand for mass production.”
How much does your shop utilize automation? If people still outnumber robots on the production floor, particularly if you’re an injection molder, you might wonder about how automated some of your competitors have become in recent years.