Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Drop in North American robot orders indicates rough year ahead

February 12, 2009
By Alyssa Dalton

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – North American-based robotics companies report that new orders sold to North American manufacturing companies fell by 21 percent in units and 16 percent in dollars in 2008 compared to 2007.

The sharp decline accelerated in the fourth quarter when orders fell by 26 percent in units and 33 percent in dollars compared with the previous year.

A total of 12,557 robots valued at $894.9 million US were ordered by North American companies in 2008, down from 15,856 robots valued at $1.07 billion US in 2007. When sales to companies outside of North America are included, the totals are 14,109 robots valued at $979.4 million US, a drop of 18 percent in units and 15 percent in dollars.

“2008 was extremely difficult for our members and 2009 likely will be a very rough year as manufacturing companies throughout the world deal with the global economic crisis,” said Jeffrey A. Burnstein, executive vice-president, Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry’s trade group. “Capital equipment expenditures are slowing dramatically in the automotive industry, traditionally the largest customer for robotics. In 2008, orders from automotive OEMs and their suppliers fell 37 percent in units and 32 percent in dollars,” Burnstein said.


Despite the current difficulties in the automotive industry, there is reason for optimism, said Tammy Mulcahy of ABB Robotics, Chair of RIA’s Statistics Committee. “In times of rising energy costs and rising environmental awareness, the demand for smaller, more economical, environmentally friendly and lower cost cars are becoming increasingly important,” Mulcahy noted. “In order to meet these demands in the short term, the car companies will have to restructure and speed up development of these types of new models. I am sure the automotive industry will introduce new cars with less consumption, reduced emission and innovative technology. This will require new automation technology throughout the value chain. Robotics will surely benefit from such investments,” she said.

Burnstein noted that there’s also reason for optimism based on the strong non-automotive results in 2008. “Non-automotive orders rose nine percent in units and seven percent in dollars over 2007. The strongest gains came in the semiconductor/electronics/photonics markets, where units rose 63 percent and dollars jumped 55 percent. Plastics and rubber orders increased 39 percent in units and 12 percent in dollars, while food and consumer goods saw increases of three percent in units and 51 percent in dollars,” Burnstein explained. “Non-automotive orders actually topped automotive orders, in terms of dollars, for the first time since we began collecting numbers 25 years ago. In terms of units, the breakdown was 51 percent automotive, 49 percent non-automotive. This is very important for our industry as we continue to make progress in reaching new customers,” he said, adding that, “Despite the financial crisis, there are great opportunities to expand the use of robotics in North America.”

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