Inside Logistics

Robot orders spike in the first quarter

Worker shortages in manufacturing and warehousing are a significant factor in the current expansion of robot use


July 22, 2021
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Robot orders in the first quarter of 2021 were up 20 percent over the same period in 2020.

According to industry stats from the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), North American companies purchased 9,098 units valued at US$466 million in Q1, with non-automotive companies purchasing 28 percent more robots over Q1 2020 and automotive OEMs and component suppliers combined seeing a 12 percent increase year-over-year.

Substantial increases in purchases were seen in metals (up 86 percent), life sciences/pharmaceutical/biomed (up 72 percent), food & consumer goods (up 32 percent), and other non-automotive industries (12 percent).

The strong Q1 for robot orders was the second-best start to any year on record and the second-best quarter on record for non-automotive orders, behind Q4 of 2020. Q4 2020 was also the second-best quarter ever for North American robot sales with a 64 percent increase over Q4 2019.

In 2020 overall, for the first time, yearly orders of robots from non-automotive sectors surpassed automotive robot orders, as sales of robotic units in North America increased four percent in 2020 from 2019.

Labour shortage contributing

“Robot sales have increased considerably as more and more companies in every industry recognize that robotics and automation can help them compete globally,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of A3.

“While advances in robot technology, ease of use, and new applications remain key drivers in robot adoption, worker shortages in manufacturing, warehousing, and other industries are a significant factor in the current expansion of robot use that we’re now seeing. Covid didn’t create the move toward automation, but certainly has accelerated trends that already were underway.”

While robotic purchases from automotive manufacturers can be highly cyclical, the increase from non-automotive companies, especially in metals, life sciences, and food and consumer goods, shows a promising outlook for the growth of the robotics and automation industry overall.

“We expect increasing demand for robotics and automation to continue in North America and throughout the world after the pandemic has ended,” Burnstein added.

“We also expect that the increased use of automation will help companies be better prepared to face any future pandemics.”

The Association for Advancing Automation (A3) is the global advocate for the benefits of automation. Members of A3 represent over 1,100 automation manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, research groups and consulting firms from throughout the world.