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 $2 billion, a 14% increase over the previous high in 2017.
According to new industry statistics released today by the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the number of robots sold in 2021 rose 28% over 2020. Record robot sales in the fourth quarter of the year—up 9% 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 labor 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% of the North American total. Unit sales to non-automotive industries saw the following increases in 2021 over 2020:
- Metals: up 91% over 2020
- Food and Consumer Goods: up 29%
- Semiconductors and Electronics/Photonics: up 2%
- Plastics and Rubber: up 4%
- Life Sciences/Pharma/Biomed: up 4%
- All Other Industries: up 65%
“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% of total units ordered. Automotive-related customers purchased 4,211 units, 39% of total orders. The following non-automotive industries in Q4 saw increases over the same quarter in 2020:
- Metals: Up 23%
- Food and Consumer Goods: Up 14%
- Semi and Electronics/Photonics: Up 12%
- Plastics and Rubber: Down 25%
- All Other Industries: Up 74%