Recently released data from the Association for Advanced Automation (A3) shows that there was a significant increase in robot sales in 2021 across North America. The figures are no surprise to anyone in the industry as the rise in robotic automation sales is a direct consequence to industry’s response to labor shortages and increased restrictions during Covid-19. Many factories have discovered that automation is essential to deliver growth within their sector or sometimes even just to stay competitive. A3 reported a 28% rise in robotic sales in 2021 compared to the sales in 2020.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the greatest increase in robotics sales was not in the automotive sectors but in sectors where robots haven’t previously been used. A record 39,708 robots were sold in 2021 for a total value of 2 billion dollars with customers realizing that in order to stay competitive in many of today’s markets, they have no choice but to automate. Another factor which may have contributed to the growth in sales across the North American market is that more manufacturing is occurring or returning to the US as a consequence of the pandemic.
58% of all new robotics sold in 2021 were for non-automotive applications with the largest increase occurring in the metals industry, which saw an increase of 91% in robotic sales – almost twice as many robots sold as the previous year. These figures are in keeping with the general trend in the metals industry that has seen an overall increase in the need for automation in recent years, with this trend being even more pronounced due to the pandemic.
The need for robotics in the metal industry is quite varied with specialty work required for most applications. This is particularly true as new industry 4.0 requires more precision from products and, consequently, robots are necessary to keep work within quality tolerances. Robots are also increasingly necessary for the hot work environment required in forging and foundry work since the heat from the processes means dangerous and uncomfortable work conditions, and robots are often used to minimize worker exposure.
After these metal products are made, they then have to be machined and deburred before final processing and shipment. These types of repetitive and monotonous tasks are tailor-made for robotic solutions.
In addition to the metal industry, the food and consumer goods industry saw an increase in robotic sales of 29%. Once again, labor shortages and increased costs associated with pandemic-related delays are responsible for this trend with Robotics companies designing specific food-safe applications for this type of manufacturing.
In the food industry, robots are commonly used in freezer storage applications and offer a viable solution for food handling. The robots are hygienic, sealed with outer coverings, and come equipped with food-grade lubricants and help to keep workers out of the cold and reduce the risk of food contamination from human workers.
Gazing into our crystal ball, it would appear that the trend for an increase in robotic automation will be a stable and ongoing one with robots continuing to alleviate workers from repetitive tasks so they can be freed up for more involved work in the factory. Combined with ongoing labor shortages, the push for robots to replace lost workers is set to continue to grow and grow.