Robot sales hit new highs in North America

by Inside Logistics Online Staff

Strong robot sales in the third quarter of 2021 bring the total number of orders so far this year to nearly 29,000 units valued at US$1.48 billion, the best numbers ever recorded for the North American robotics market.

According to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), these numbers show increases of 37 percent in units sold (up from 21,072) and 35 percent in value (up from $1.09 billion) over the same period in 2020. The gains surpass the previous highest record from 2017 by 5.8 percent and 0.5 percent.

In Q3 alone, North American companies ordered 9,928 robots valued at $513 million, up 32 percent and 35 percent respectively over the third quarter of 2020. This marks the third highest quarter ever in units ordered and fifth highest in value.

Figure 1: Industry Growth Rates for Units Ordered in Third Quarter 2021

“With labour shortages throughout manufacturing, logistics and virtually every industry, companies of all sizes are increasingly turning to robotics and automation to stay productive and competitive,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of A3.

“As our latest statistics indicate, sales are on track to make 2021 the biggest year ever for robotics orders in North America.  We see many current users expanding their applications of robotics and automation throughout their facilities while first time robotics users are emerging in a wide range of industries such as automotive, agriculture, construction, electronics, food processing, life sciences, metalworking, warehousing and more.”

Figure 3: First Nine Months of 2021 Industry Growth Rates (Units Ordered)

Non-automotive sales

In the first nine months of 2021, automotive-related orders increased 20 percent year over year to 12,544 units ordered. Non-automotive orders outpaced this growth, expanding 53 percent to 16,355 units ordered, marking only the second time non-automotive orders have surpassed automotive-related orders in the first nine months of a year (2020).

In Q3 2021 specifically, nearly two-thirds of sales (6,302) came from non-automotive industries, further demonstrating the trend of robotics growing into areas outside of automotive OEM and tier suppliers. Unit sales from non-automotive industries in Q3 saw the following increases over the same quarter in 2020:

  • Metals: 183 percent
  • Food and Consumer Goods: 40 percent
  • Semi and Electronics/Photonics: 26 percent
  • Plastics and Rubber: 10 percent
  • All Other Industries: 97 percent

Figure 2: Automotive vs. Non-Automotive Shares of Units Ordered (Quarterly)

Manufacturer and A3 member 3M has experienced the trends firsthand. “3M is seeing an upswing in providing automated solutions and processes for our customers, but as a manufacturer ourselves, we are also increasingly investing in automation,” said Carl Doeksen, global robotics/automation director, 3M’s Abrasive Systems Division.

“The pandemic put a spotlight on the benefits that automated processes bring—from the ability to ramp-up and scale-up production quickly and efficiently, to helping improve the lives of our employees, our customers, and their families. Some of this is captured in the story of a 3M operator in our Aberdeen, SD, plant: automation improved the quality and quantity of our N95 respirator production. But just as importantly, this operator discovered that automation gave her greater autonomy, connectivity and time to focus on other aspects of her role and her life too.”