Robotics Industry Licks Wounds, Strives to Diversify in 2007

Jan. 1, 2007
The automotive sector accounts for more than half of all robot orders. When domestic automakers dramatically curtailed spending last year, the robotics

The automotive sector accounts for more than half of all robot orders. When domestic automakers dramatically curtailed spending last year, the robotics sector took a big hit. Industry representatives offered their perspectives in a recent report from the Robotic Industry Association (RIA), Ann Arbor, Mich. Here are what some industry leaders had to say about last year and what they expect for 2007:

  • “Pent up demand from automakers helped push the industry into record territory in 2005 which simply couldn’t be sustained in 2006,’‘ said Donald Vincent, executive v.p. of RIA. “Orders from the automotive sector are down 49% over last year. But the customer base for robots is expanding, and we expect to see more gains in all sectors in 2007.”
  • “I do not anticipate 2007 to be a great year for the robotics industry, but it will be up slightly over 2006 as some new programs are launched by automotive OEM’s,” said Craig Jennings, president of Motoman Inc., West Carrollton, Ohio. Looking forward he offered some words of caution. “Going into 2007, the robotics industry is still going to have problems with the Big Three Automotive makers because they are still not going to be growing at their potential capacity.” He believes the automotive sector will be finishing its downsizing in 2007 and will be poised to invest in robotics more in 2008.
  • “I believe that 2007 will be comparable or a slight increase over 2006. In 2006, the market was down from 2005, but 2005 was a record year,” said Gary Zywiol, v.p. of product development at FANUC Robotics America, Inc., Rochester Hills, Mich. “Some of the technical introductions that are coming in 2007 will help spur new sales and get FANUC into areas that may not have even been robotic-type solutions in the past. I’m bullish from a technical perspective.”
  • “I see a steady growth of non-automotive applications in 2007,” said Trevor Jones, president of the RIA. Jones is v.p. and business unit manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc., Burlington, Ont. “Over the past five years, the annual growth in non-automotive applications averaged about 6%.”
  • “While the automotive sales are in decline, the industry is by no means dead. ABB continues to do good business with our automotive customers, but with lower volumes. The effect is that the industry will be focusing more efforts on the non-automotive sectors, where opportunities for robotic automation are very good,” said Ted S. Wodoslawsky, v.p. of marketing at the Robotics Division of ABB, Inc. , Auburn Hills, Mich.
  • “On the automotive side, there are some cash flow problems that manufacturers have. They have a lot of programs that are being postponed,” adds Richard Litt, president and -CEO of Genesis Systems Group, Davenport, Iowa. “Genesis is experiencing an explosion in the broad-based industrial market. That includes consumer products, logistics equipment manufacturing, agricultural products, forestry products, health and fitness manufacturing and medical devices.”
  • “Non-automotive sectors have the largest increase in investment in robotics, especially food packaging. Food manufactures are not moving overseas but have been increasing their investment in robotics because it is so cost-effective to do so,” said Robert Little, product manager, ATI Industrial Automation, Apex, N.C. ‘‘Medical applications, such as pharmaceutical manufacturing, laboratory automation and packaging will increase investment in robotics.” Little added that material handling in general and packaging in particular did well in 2006, and that he expects these sectors to continue to do well in 2007.

“Robotic suppliers are working hard to develop new customers and new business in non-automotive industries,” RIA’s Vincent concluded. “To stay successful, robot companies have to develop new customers in industries such as aerospace, beverage, woodworking, and textiles.”