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North American Robot Orders Dropped 31% in First Quarter of 2009, But Rose 16% from Fourth Quarter of 2008

POSTED 05/05/2009

Ann Arbor, Michigan –Industrial robotics companies reported that orders to North American manufacturers fell 31% in the first quarter of 2009 when compared with the same quarter in 2008.  However, the first quarter showed a gain of 16% over the fourth quarter of 2008, according to new statistics from Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry’s trade group.

“As expected, the current economic crisis is having a major impact on robotics companies, not just in North America, but throughout the world,” said Jeffrey A. Burnstein, President of RIA.

“The sharp decline in year over year unit figures was not unexpected.  We are encouraged, however, that the numbers jumped sharply from the last quarter of 2008.  We’re hopeful that orders will continue to improve as the economy heads toward recovery,” Burnstein said.

A total of 2648 robots valued at $159.9 million were ordered by North American companies in the first quarter of 2009, a decline of 31% in units and 44% in dollars. 

Burnstein noted that robot orders from hard-hit automotive manufacturers and suppliers fell 31%, the exact same amount as the overall decline.  Automotive related orders accounted for 52% of overall new orders.    Non-automotive orders, which accounted for 48% of new orders in the first quarter, fell 30%.

Tammy Mulcahy of ABB Robotics, who Chairs RIA’s Statistics Committee, did point to some bright spots in terms of non-automotive industry purchases.  “The food & consumer goods industries posted a 50% increase in robot orders in the first quarter, while the life sciences/pharmaceutical/biomedical/medical devices industries saw a 76% increase,” she said. 

 “These industries, along with many others, offer promising long-term applications for robotics that are largely untapped.  The economy may be off to a slow start in 2009, but that doesn’t mean companies aren't planning ahead for better times. The best run companies, looking to not just survive the economy, but thrive in it, are investing in automation.  An economic recovery will happen. When it does, companies need to be positioned to take full advantage of it.” Mulcahy asserted.

While the timing of the recovery remains unclear, Mulcahy cited encouraging news that could be a strong positive for robotics companies.  “Business inventories declined $100 billion in the first quarter, according to new government reports.  This means that once consumers start spending again, companies will have to start ramping up production since they won’t have products on hand to meet the demand,” Mulcahy explained.

RIA hopes to jump-start demand at the upcoming International Robots, Vision & Motion Control Show slated for June 9-11 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont (Chicago), Illinois.

“The show, which is North America’s largest event of its kind, is held just once every two years,” said the RIA’s Burnstein.  “We expect thousands of current and potential customers to attend looking for automation products that can give them a competitive advantage.  Despite the economy, many companies continue to purchase robots and others are getting ready to start or resume purchases once economic conditions improve,” Burnstein noted.

RIA estimates that more than 188,000 robots are now being used in the United States, placing the Unites States second only to Japan in overall robot use.  It’s estimated that more than one million robots are being used worldwide, with countries such as China, Korea and India rapidly expanding their investments in robotics.

Founded in1974, RIA represents more than 275 North American companies including leading robot manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, research groups and consulting firms.  RIA’s quarterly statistics report is based on data supplied by member companies representing an estimated 90% of the North American market.

For more information about RIA and the robotics industry, visit www.robotics.org or contact RIA Headquarters at 734/994-6088.