In an industry first, non-automotive robot orders surpassed those from the automotive sector in 2020, as sales of robotic units in North America rose 3.5% compared to 2019, according to statistics from the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) and the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), released this week.
The growth was driven by a strong fourth quarter that was the second-best quarter ever for North American robotics sales, with a 63.6% increase over the fourth quarter of 2019.
North American companies ordered 31,044 robotic units, valued at more than $1.5 billion, in 2020. Companies ordered 9,972 units valued at $479 million in the fourth quarter alone.
“The surge in robot orders that we’re seeing, despite the pandemic, demonstrates the growing interest in robotic and automation solutions,” Jeff Burnstein, A3 president, said in a statement announcing the data Thursday. “It’s promising to see the growth of robotics in new applications and reaching a wider group of users than ever before.”
Year-over-year orders in life sciences increased by 69%, food and consumer goods grew by 56%, and plastics and rubber saw a 51% increase. Automotive orders increased 39% in 2020.
RIA, A3, and others credit changing consumer behavior due in large part to the pandemic as well as a growing level of competence with automation as key reasons for the growth.
“In 2020, we saw two trends in particular that propelled growth in non-automotive orders for robotics technology,” said John Bubnikovich, chief regional officer–North America, for KUKA Robotics. “First, the automation competence level in general industry has grown, and that matured into greater demand for the technology. Second, consumer behavior shifted significantly and the expectations created by this shift were tough to satisfy without automation.”