Record number of robots sold in 2021

by Inside Logistics Online Staff

Propelled by a surge in non-automotive sectors, the number of robots sold in North America set a new record in 2021, with 39,708 units sold at a value of US$2 billion, a 14 percent increase over the previous high in 2017.

According to new industry statistics released this week by the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the number of robots sold in 2021 rose 28 percent over 2020. Record robot sales in the fourth quarter of the year — up nine percent over Q4 2020 — demonstrated the strong momentum already realized through the previous nine months as more industries look to automation to increase productivity and alleviate ongoing labour shortages.

“More industries recognized that robotics could help reverse productivity declines and fill repetitive jobs human workers don’t want. It is no longer a choice whether to deploy robots and automation,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of A3.

“It’s 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.”

Non-automotive ordering more robots

Non-automotive orders now represent 58 percent of the North American total.

Unit sales to non-automotive industries saw the following increases in 2021 over 2020:

  • Metals up 91 percent over 2020
  • Food and Consumer Goods up 29 percent
  • Semiconductors and Electronics/Photonics up two percent
  • Plastics and Rubber up four percent
  • Life Sciences/Pharma/Biomed up four percent
  • All Other Industries up 65 percent

“Improvements in technology, new financing models and simpler applications continue to be positive trend lines leading into 2022, in particular helping small companies automate and join the global stage,” Burnstein added.

“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 A3 member 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.”

Q4 sales and value

October through December of 2021 marked the highest and second-highest quarter on record for units and revenue, respectively. Non-automotive customers ordered 6,618 robots in Q4, which represents 61 percent of total units ordered. Automotive-related customers purchased 4,211 units, 39 percent of total orders.

The following non-automotive industries in Q4 saw changes over the same quarter in 2020:

  • Metals up 23 percent
  • Food and Consumer Goods up 14 percent
  • Semi and Electronics/Photonics up 12 percent
  • Plastics and Rubber down 25 percent
  • All Other Industries up 74 percent