Canadian Packaging

Robot Sales Tumble But Relief In Sight

May 25, 2010
by Canadian Packaging Staff

While North American robotics companies saw their shipments plunge by a staggering 25 per cent last year, the worst of the downturn appeared to have bottomed out towards the end of 2009, according to the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based industry trade group Robotic Industries Association (RIA).

Last year North American manufacturing companies ordered a total of 9,452 robots valued at US$569.2 million, RIA reports, representing a 25-percent slump in shipments and an even steeper 36-percent drop in dollar value from the year before.

Despite the dramatic declines—attributed largely to the deep cuts in capital spending in the all-important automotive industry—RIA is taking solace in the numbers recorded for the fourth quarter, with shipments matching those of the last quarter of 2008, with the dollar value down by five per cent.
“We hope that the stabilization we saw in the fourth quarter is a sign that the worst is behind us now,” says Tammy Mulcahy of ABB Robotics, chair of RIA’s statistics committee.
Despite the gloomy overall picture, RIA says it is encouraged by two emerging bright spots: a 43-percent rise in the number of orders placed by companies in the life sciences/pharmaceutical/biomedical industries; and a seven-percent rise in orders by the consumer goods companies.

“While these are relatively small segments of the market, it’s very encouraging to see strong growth here despite the weak overall numbers,” says RIA president Jeffrey Burnstein, pointing out that the 49-percent decline in orders by suppliers to the North American automakers drove most of the 2009 slump.

“The Tier suppliers have suffered enormously during the painful restructuring of the automotive industry, which has had a noticeable impact on their investments in capital equipment,” Burnstein explains.

But while the near-term outlook remains uncertain for the North American robotics manufacturers, Burnstein maintains that all the key fundamentals are in place to indicate good long-term prospects for the robotics industry.

“The awareness of the benefits of robotics continues to grow,” he states. “The future of our economy nation depends upon our ability to take advantage of critical technologies such as robotics, and we’re looking forward to reaching more manufacturing and non-manufacturing companies alike with the message that robots can help them become stronger global competitors.”

According to the RIA, which represents more than 225 robotics manufacturers, components suppliers and systems integrators, there are more than 194,000 robots currently used in the U.S.—placing the country second behind only Japan in overall robot use.

According to RIA, there are now more than one million robots being used worldwide across a growing range of industries.