American Industrial Automation Growth to Stay Strong, Says RIA

In the News
February 12, 2017

According to the Robotic Industries Association, the North American industrial automation market has been growing at a healthy rate.

The total number of units has grown from 17,887 worth $1.1 billion in 2011 to 30,875 units worth $1.8 billion in 2016.

Carmakers and automotive components manufacturers are still the largest users and purchasers of robots at 70 percent of the market, reported the Robotics Industries Association (RIA).

“That’s nothing surprising in terms of industry growth,” said Alex Shikany, director of market analysis at the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the umbrella organization for the RIA.

However, other industries, including food and consumer goods, semiconductors and electronics, and metals, are also increasingly adopting automation as units become more affordable and flexible.

Business Takeaways:

  • Although the automotive industry is still leading the growth of robots in manufacturing, new applications and sectors are helping with the adoption rate, says the RIA.
  • Cobots, improving machine vision, and IoT are among the technologies that are prompting interest among SMEs.
  • The ongoing spread of North American industrial automation isn’t without challenges, including a need for standards, explaining how automation and reshoring don’t threaten jobs, and uncertain public policy.

“The great thing we see is double-digit growth in non-automotive industries, end effectors, smaller robots, and collaborative robots,” Shikany told Robotics Business Review. “It’s leading to new applications and new industries. It’s exciting.”

“There are lots of applications in electronics and mechanical assembly,” said Bob Doyle, director of communications at the RIA. “Material handling and welding have grown the fastest, with assembly in third place.”

Smaller companies join automation wave

Smaller in market share but also growing are plastics and rubber, as well as pharmaceuticals. Of the more than 30,000 robots that shipped last year, 90 percent were articulated robotic arms. Small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) are a particularly bright spot.

“The trend toward smaller companies has been continuing for some time now,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of the RIA. “Interest has grown dramatically, not just in exploring automation, but [also in] actual investment.”

“Facilities automation is already being adopted past manufacturing,” he added. “For instance, in distribution, there’s the mobile base at Amazon, and there are more cases of robotic arms moving around warehouses. We’re watching the trend toward putting industrial robot arms on mobile robot bases.”

“This will accelerate — we’ve seen drones used indoors to deliver materials within factories — all kinds of applications,” Burnstein said. “The whole arena of robotics is more than just...

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