North American robotics companies experienced a record year for orders from non-automotive users in 2006, but it wasn't enough to offset the steep decline in robot sales to automotive companies. As a result, new orders to North American companies fell 30% for the year, according to new statistics from Robotic Industries Association (RIA, Ann Arbor, Mich.), the industry's trade group.
A total of 12,765 robots valued at $904.2 million were sold to North American companies in 2006, a decline of 30% in units and 22% in revenue from 2005. When sales to companies outside North America are added in, North American robotics companies' total sales were 13,791 robots valued at $958.4 million, down 29% in units and 22% in revenue.
"As expected, the automotive companies and their suppliers slowed their robotics purchases in 2006, following upon their major purchases in 2005," said Donald A. Vincent, executive vice president of RIA.
"However, the most interesting result from 2006 is that non-automotive orders reached the highest mark since we've been tracking the data this way. We saw very strong growth in industries such as beverages and tobacco, apparel, wood products, paper manufacturing, printing, machinery manufacturing, and furniture. We also saw growth in food and consumer goods, life sciences/pharmaceuticals/biomedical, and plastics and rubber," Vincent explained.
Non-automotive orders accounted for 44% of total orders in 2006, compared with just 30% in 2005. Vincent believes this is a very healthy trend for the robotics industry.
"Our members understand that while the automotive industry has traditionally been and remains the largest customer for robotics, changes are occurring in the auto industry that may negatively impact future robot sales to automotive OEMs and their suppliers," said Vincent. "Therefore, it becomes more important than ever to find new markets, which is what we're seeing happen."
RIA estimates that some 166,000 robots are now at use in U.S. factories, placing the United States second to Japan in overall robot use.