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Robot Orders Surged in the First Quarter

First quarter robot orders in North America showed the second-best start to any year on record and the second-best quarter ever for non-automotive orders.

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The Association for Advancing Automation (A3; Ann Arbor, Mich.) reported that robot orders in the first quarter of 2021 were up 20% over the same period in 2020, with big jumps in purchasing activity from companies outside of automotive, including metals (up 86%), life sciences/pharmaceutical/biomed (up 72%), food & consumer goods (up 32%), and other non-automotive industries (12%).

A3 reported that North American companies purchased 9098 units valued at $466 million in the first quarter of 2021, with non-automotive companies increasing robot purchases over the year-ago quarter by 28%. In automotive, meanwhile, OEMs and component suppliers combined saw a 12% increase year-over-year.

How strong was the start to 2021? A3 says the quarter marked the second-best start to any year on record, trailing only 2017. The quarter also marked the second-best quarter on record for non-automotive orders, trailing only the fourth quarter of 2020.

Going a little further back, the fourth quarter of 2020, also marked the second-best quarter ever for North America robot sales, with a 64% increase over the final quarter of 2019. Automotive literally drives the automation market in most years, but 2020 was a different story.

Last year, as the pandemic raged, yearly orders of robots from non-automotive sectors surpassed automotive robot orders for the first time ever. Overall, sales of robotic units in North America increased 4% in 2020 from 2019.

Jeff Burnstein, president of A3, summarized the situation thusly:

“While advances in robot technology, ease of use, and new applications remain key drivers in robot adoption, worker shortages in manufacturing, warehousing, and other industries are a significant factor in the current expansion of robot use that we’re now seeing. COVID didn’t create the move toward automation, but certainly has accelerated trends that already were underway.”

For his part, Burnstein said in the release that he expects the jump in non-automotive business for robotics to continue after the pandemic has subsided.

Recently, Plastics Technology looked at the impact of COVID-19 on automation, as well as a new style of automation company that launched immediately before the pandemic, but took off during it.

 

Non-automotive sales keep pushing North American robotic business to record results. 

 

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