February 2, 2022
The number of robots sold in North America set a new record in 2021, driven by a surge in non-automotive sectors, according to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3). The group said 39,708 units were sold at a value of $2 billion, a 14% increase over the previous record in 2017.
The number of robots sold in 2021 also rose 28% compared with 2020 (31,044 units), the A3 said. For the fourth quarter of 2021, robot sales were up 9% over Q4 2020, with 10,829 units sold. The A3 said the robot sales demonstrated strong momentum already seen through the previous nine months of 2021, as more industries look to automation to help increase productivity and alleviate their ongoing labor shortages.
“More industries recognized that robotics could help reverse productivity declines and fill repetitive jobs human workers don’t want,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of A3. “It is no longer a choice whether to deploy robots and automation. It is now an absolute imperative. As we’ve long believed – and users continue to confirm – robots help companies compete, ultimately creating more jobs to handle their growth.”
Robot orders for North America, 2019-2021. Source: A3
The trend of non-automotive companies ordering more robots continued in 2021. Non-automotive orders now represent 58% of the North American total. Other industries also saw large increases in their 2021 orders compared with 2020, including:
- Metals: Up 91% over 2020
- Food and consumer goods: Up 29%
- Semiconductors and electronics/photonics: Up 2%
- Plastics and rubber: Up 4%
- Life sciences, pharmaceuticals and biomedical: Up 4%
- All other industries: Up 65%
The association noted that sales of robots within the automotive sector still increased in 2021, with 16,755 units ordered (up 11% over 2020, when 15,045 were ordered).
In Q4 2021, non-automotive customers ordered 6,818 robots, representing 61% of total units ordered. Automotive customers purchased 4,211 units, representing 39% of the total. Industries seeing increases in Q4 2021 (compared with Q4 2020) included metals (up 23%), food and consumer goods (up 14%), semiconductors and electronics/photonics (up 12%), plastics and rubber (down 25%), and all other industries were up 74%.
Customers in the non-automotive sector continue to tout the benefits of deploying robots for their companies. “The right robotic solutions have helped us increase safety and efficiency, which are tremendous benefits as it relates to our talented pool of craft workers,” said Henning Roedel, robotics lead at DRP Construction, headquartered in Redwood City, Calif. “Solutions we’ve used for drywall finishing and layout, for instance, have taken our craft away from unsafe working conditions and reduced repetitive strains on their bodies. From increased productivity gains to higher quality results, our craft are able to get more work, helping us address labor shortages for our clients. In addition, we’re seeing new talent join our industry, whether they are developing or operating these new tools.”
Robots have also addressed labor shortages through the use of less expensive operating costs, such as robots-as-a-service. “Hiring technicians and machine operators in the Bay Area is always difficult, and it became even harder during the pandemic,” said Joe Montano, president and CEO of Delphon, a customer of Rapid Robotics. “Meanwhile, a new generation of rentable robots had made the costs feasible for facilities like ours to make a measured entry into automation. By hiring robots to operate machines for pad printing and component cleaning, we were able to redeploy eight operators to other jobs and see a $70,000 return on investment in less than a year.”