Non-automotive industries driving record robot sales

North American robot sales. | Credit: A3

The robotics industry ended 2020 with record Q4 sales in North America, and that trend has continued in 2021. So far in 2021, the robotics industry generated $1.48 billion in sales, with nearly 29,000 units ordered in North America. That is a record high for the first 9 months in the market, surpassing the previous record set in 2017.

Industry statistics released today by the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) show robotics sales increased 37% in 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. In Q3, North American companies ordered 9,928 robots valued at $513 million, up 32% and 35%, respectively, over the third quarter of 2020. Nearly two-thirds of orders (6,302) in Q3 came from non-automotive industries.

It should be noted A3 only collects sales data on traditional industrial robots. It doesn’t collect data about autonomous mobile robots or collaborative robotic arms. If A3 recorded sales for these types of robots, too, sales numbers would be even higher.

Historically, the automotive industry has been the backbone of robotics sales. But the biggest growth within the industry continues to be in non-automotive sales. So far in 2021, automotive sales have increased by 20% year-over-year to 12,544 units, while non-automotive sales have increased by 53% to 16,355 units.

A3 said this is only the second time non-automotive orders have surpassed automotive-related orders in the first 9 months of a year. This also happened in the first 9 months of 2020. Yearly orders of robots from non-automotive sectors first surpassed automotive robot orders in North America last year.

Non-automotive robotic sales continue to outpace automotive sales in growth in 2021, a trend that began in 2020.

“With labor shortages throughout manufacturing, logistics and virtually every industry, companies of all sizes are increasingly turning to robotics and automation to stay productive and competitive,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of A3. “As our latest statistics indicate, sales are on track to make 2021 the biggest year ever for robotics orders in North America. We see many current users expanding their applications of robotics and automation throughout their facilities while first time robotics users are emerging in a wide range of industries such as automotive, agriculture, construction, electronics, food processing, life sciences, metalworking, warehousing and more.”

Unit sales from non-automotive industries in Q3 saw the following increases over the same quarter in 2020:

Metals: 183%
Food and Consumer Goods: 40%
Semi and Electronics/Photonics: 26%
Plastics and Rubber: 10%
All Other Industries: 97%

“The pandemic put a spotlight on the benefits that automated processes bring – from the ability to ramp-up and scale-up production quickly and efficiently, to helping improve the lives of our employees, our customers, and their families,” said Carl Doeksen, global robotics/automation director, 3M’s Abrasive Systems Division.

Year-over-year orders in metals saw the greatest increase in 2021 so far.

“This trend of companies in every industry — agriculture, construction, retail — all these industries that weren’t automating a long time ago, now they all are,” Burnstein said. “They’re looking at robotics, so the long term looks extremely bright.”

This is a trend that, according to Burnstein, can be seen all over the world. In September 2021, SoftBank, a Japanese conglomerate, invested $200 million in service robotics company Keenon Robotics.

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