Nonautomotive orders for robots rise in 2006; overall robot sales fall

FEBRUARY 27--North American robotics companies experienced a record year for orders from nonautomotive users in 2006, but it wasn't enough to offset the steep decline in robot sales to automotive companies.

FEBRUARY 27--North American robotics companies experienced a record year for orders from nonautomotive users in 2006, but it wasn't enough to offset the steep decline in robot sales to automotive companies. As a result, new orders to North American companies fell 30% for the year, according to new statistics from the Robotic Industries Association (RIA; Ann Arbor, MI, USA), the industry's trade group. A total of 12,765 robots valued at $904.2 million were sold to North American companies in 2006, a decline of 30% in units and 22% in revenue from 2005. When sales to companies outside North America are added in, North American robotics companies' total sales were 13,791 robots valued at $958.4 million, down 29% in units and 22% in revenue.

"As expected, the automotive companies and their suppliers slowed their robotics purchases in 2006, following upon their major purchases in 2005," said Donald A. Vincent, executive vice president of the RIA. "However, the most interesting result from 2006 is that nonautomotive orders reached the highest mark since we've been tracking the data this way. We saw very strong growth in industries such as beverages and tobacco, apparel, wood products, paper manufacturing, printing, machinery manufacturing, and furniture. We also saw growth in food and consumer goods, life sciences/pharmaceuticals/biomedical, and plastics and rubber," Vincent explained.

Nonautomotive orders accounted for 44% of total orders in 2006, compared with just 30% in 2005. Vincent believes this is a very healthy trend for the robotics industry.

"Our members understand that while the automotive industry has traditionally been and remains the largest customer for robotics, changes are occurring in the auto industry that may negatively impact future robot sales to automotive OEMs and their suppliers," said Vincent. "Therefore, it becomes more important than ever to find new markets, which is what we're seeing happen."

New market development is at the core of RIA's efforts, according to Vincent. "Our trade group is focusing more resources than ever on reaching new potential customers for robotics. In addition to the continued expansion of our industry Web site, Robotics Online (www.roboticsonline.com) that recorded more than two million visits last year, we're also expanding our educational offerings to help users better understand the benefits of robotics and assess if they are right for their company."

Vincent pointed to the upcoming International Robots & Vision Show and Conference in Rosemont, IL, USA, June 12--14, as an example of RIA's expanding efforts to reach new markets. "One of the major points of emphasis at this show will be that robot technology is easier to use than many companies think, especially some small and medium size companies who may think robots are only for big companies. To help demonstrate the ease of use of the technology, we're creating a "Hands-on Highway" that will allow show attendees to take four-minute, self-directed demos at various booths on the show floor. With more than 150 companies exhibiting at the show and more than 100 international experts speaking at the conference, this will be an outstanding training opportunity for anyone interested in finding out how robotics and machine vision can help their companies achieve improved manufacturing results."

RIA estimates that some 166,000 robots are now at use in US factories, placing the United States second to Japan in overall robot use.

Founded in 1974, RIA represents more than 260 North American companies including robot manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, research groups, and consulting firms. RIA's quarterly statistics are based on information supplied by member companies and represent an estimated 90% of the North American robotics market.

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