ANN ARBOR, MI-New orders received by North American-based robotics companies fell 38 percent in the first half of 2006, according to statistics released by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA).

Most of the losses were the result of a drop in sales to the automotive industry, where new orders were down 52 percent. Sales to nonautomotive companies fell 5 percent, with orders placed by food, consumer goods and life sciences companies showing a slight increase.

Overall, nonautomotive robot sales accounted for 45 percent of new orders through June. This represents a significant increase from mid-2005 when nonautomative orders represented just 29 percent of total sales.

‘‘The long-term success of the robotics industry depends upon growth in nonautomotive markets, so we're encouraged by the relatively good results," says Donald A. Vincent, executive vice president of RIA, adding that the current drop comes in the wake of a record 2005.

Among the bright spots in an otherwise bleak 6 months, a 33 percent increase in new orders for assembly robots and material removal robots. ‘‘Since assembly robots are used primarily in nonautomotive applications, this is further evidence of continued penetration into new areas for robotics,'‘ Vincent says.

In all, North American robotics companies received orders for 6,607 robots worth approximately $473.5 million in the first 6 months of 2006. RIA estimates there are now 162,000 robots at work in American factories, placing the United States second only to Japan in robot use.

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