Robot Sales Shatter Records in 2021
New data shows significant growth in robot sales across North America, particularly in several non-automotive robotic industries including welding and machine tending.
The Association for Advanced Automation (A3) has reported a significant increase in robotic automation in 2021, and perhaps this comes as no surprise. The increase follows industry's response to labor shortages and increased restrictions in the Covid-19 era. Many factories are finding that automation is necessary in order to see growth within their sector, or in some cases, just to stay competitive. A3 found an increase in 2021 of 28% in robotic sales over the previous year's number.
Robotics outside of the automotive sectors saw the largest increase in sales. The need for robots in situations where they haven’t previously been used has led to an expansion in the robotic sector.
2021 set a record with 39,708 robots sold for a total value of 2 billion dollars. Customers have realized that in order to stay competitive in many of today’s markets, they have no choice but to automate. This increase in North American sales may also be attributed to more manufacturing occurring or returning to the US.
Robots have been used for decades in the assembly of automobiles and components. Image used courtesy of A3
Non-Automotive Sectors Increase Sales
The spread of robotics outside of the automotive sector brought the largest share of robots last year. 58% of all new robotics were for these non-automotive applications.
The largest increase was in the metals industry. They saw an increase of 91% in robotic sales - almost twice as many robots sold as the previous year. The metals industry has seen a general increase in the need for automation in recent years, with the pandemic making it even more pronounced.
The industry includes:
The metal industry is broad, requiring specialty work for most applications. With new industry 4.0 requiring more precision from products, robots are necessary to keep work within quality tolerances. Aluminum castings in particular are often required to be manufactured with higher precision and tighter tolerances.
Robots are also increasingly necessary for the hot work environment required in forging and foundry work. The heat from the processes makes for dangerous and uncomfortable work conditions, and robots have helped to minimize worker exposure.
Once these metal products are made, they often need to be machined and deburred before final processing and shipment. These repetitive and tedious tasks are ideal for robotic solutions.
Machining and welding applications are often some of the easiest robotic applications, being used often for CNC machine tending and arc welding cells with robots that can easily follow consistent, repetitive paths.
Machine tending is a particularly suitable application for cobots. Image used courtesy of Fusion
The food and consumer goods industry saw an increase in robotic sales of 29%. The trend is brought about for the same reasons: labor shortages and increased costs associated with pandemic-related delays. Robotics companies design specific food-safe applications for this type of manufacturing.
These robots are used in freezer storage applications and offer a viable solution for food handling. They are hygienic, sealed with outer coverings, and come equipped with food-grade lubricants. These robots help to keep workers out of the cold and reduce the risk of food contamination from human workers.
The Future of Robots in Industry
Looking ahead, the trend for an increase in robotic automation appears to be a stable one. Robots are continuing to alleviate workers from repetitive tasks so they can be freed up for more involved work in the factory. As labor shortages continue, the push for robots to replace lost workers continues to grow.
A common fear is that automation forces the workforce out of employment, but the parallel shortage of applicants for job openings appears to tell a different story. Robot sales are up, but the demand for workforce is also on the rise - good news for technical job seekers!
Robot manufacturers are designing robots to be used in more specialized tasks. This helps to lower the initial cost for manufacturers just starting to use automation in their plant processes. They have also worked to make robot programming easier initially.
With the continuous increase of robots in the workforce, the need for programmers and robotic maintenance technicians is also increasing. It is fair to say that in the upcoming years, technicians and programmers will be in high demand for companies that have increased their robotic fleets.