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North American robot orders fall 25% in 2009 — but positive signs emerge


February 8, 2010
By Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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North American robotics companies saw orders for new robots fall 25 percent in 2009, but the decline slowed considerably in the fourth quarter, according to new statistics from Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry’s trade group.

A total of 9,451 robots valued at $569.2 million were ordered by North American manufacturing companies in 2009. Unit figures were down 25% and dollars declined 36% when compared to the full year 2008 results.

In the fourth quarter, the decline came to a near stop as units were flat with the same period in 2008 and dollars were down just five percent.

“We hope that the stabilization we saw in the fourth quarter is a sign that the worst is behind us now,” said Tammy Mulcahy of ABB Robotics, chair of RIA’s statistics committee.

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Despite the sharp overall declines two bright spots emerged in 2009. Life sciences/pharmaceutical/biomedical orders rose 43% in units while food and consumer goods orders rose seven percent in 2009, according to RIA.

“While these are relatively small segments of the market, it’s very encouraging to see strong growth here despite the weak overall numbers,” said Jeffrey Burnstein, president of RIA.

Orders placed by automotive OEMs also increased five percent but orders from suppliers to the automotive industry fell 49 percent. “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 noted.

The near-term outlook remains uncertain, but the long term prospects for the robotics industry remain strong, according to Burnstein.

“The awareness of the benefits of robotics continues to grow,” he said. “One strong sign of the importance of robotics is the National Robotics Week initiative which has eighteen sponsors in Congress. RIA is one of many leading organizations sponsoring National Robotics Week which will take place April 10-18, 2010. The future success of our 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,” Burnstein explained.
www.robotics.org