ANN ARBOR, MI-In 2005, North American robotics companies received more orders than ever before, surpassing the industry's previous high, set in 1999.

According to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), North American manufacturing companies ordered 18,228 robots worth $1.16 billion, a 23 percent increase in units and a 17 percent increase in dollars over 2004.

RIA estimates that currently there are some 158,000 industrial robots in operation in the United States, placing it second only to Japan in robot usage.

"Clearly, 2005 was the best year ever for the North American robotics industry," says RIA executive vice president, Donald A. Vincent. "It's gratifying to see the industry finally surpass the records set in 1999 when the North American economy was really booming."

Still, despite good overall numbers for 2005, Vincent says he is concerned about the immediate future, thanks to a slowdown in orders during the fourth quarter, when new orders in North America actually declined 2 percent from the same period in 2004.

"We're...concerned about the troubles faced by leading companies in the automotive industry, since the automotive manufacturers and their suppliers are the largest users of robots in North America," Vincent says. "And, we remain concerned by the continued shift of manufacturing operations from North America to overseas countries such as China, as well as the robustness of the U.S. economy, which certainly is not as healthy as it was when we posted our previous record year in 1999. All of these factors make us cautious about the expectations for 2006."

Nonetheless, Vincent says the long-term future remain, thanks to the increased use of robots in life sciences, pharmaceutical and biomedical applications.

"As companies learn more about the benefits of robotics in industries where they may currently not be in widespread use, we can expect to see long term growth," Vincent says.

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