ANN ARBOR, MI—North American manufacturing companies purchased 14,838 robots valued at nearly $1 billion in 2004, a 20 percent increase in units over 2003 and the industry's second best unit total ever, according to a recent report from the Robotic Industries Association (RIA).

"It's clear that more and more companies recognize that robots can play a key role in keeping manufacturing jobs in North America," says Donald A. Vincent, executive vice president of RIA. "As the capabilities of robots have increased and the overall costs have fallen, manufacturing in North America using robots is an increasingly viable alternative to sending manufacturing jobs overseas to low-cost producers."

Orders by North American automotive manufacturers and suppliers to the auto industry accounted for about 64 percent of the total in 2004, down from 68 percent in 2003. According to Vincent, this is an indication robots are gaining acceptance in a diverse range of companies in industries such as food, pharmaceuticals, electronics, aerospace and life sciences.

"The message is spreading that robots aren't just for heavy manufacturing companies," Vincent says. "We find a growing number of small and medium-sized companies…where robots may be used in relatively small numbers." As evidence of this trend, Vincent notes that orders for packaging and palletizing robots grew 50 percent in 2004.

In 2004 North American robotics companies also saw big gains in orders from foreign companies. A total of 1,291 robots valued at $65 million were ordered, an increase of 152 percent in units and 78 percent in revenue. Overall, North American robotics companies sold 16,129 robots valued at $1.06 billion, for gains of 25 percent in units and 16 percent in revenue. The 2004 results follow strong gains in 2003, when North American robotics orders grew 19 percent.

"The last two years have been very good in large part due to the pent-up demand during 2001 and 2002 when manufacturing companies were cutting capital equipment expenditures," Vincent says. "Once they resumed buying, robots were near the top of their shopping lists, and we've seen the results. Whether or not this continues in 2005 depends upon many economic factors. However, the long term prospects for the robotics industry remain outstanding."

RIA estimates that some 144,000 robots are now being used in the United States, placing the country second to Japan in terms of robot use. The association collects and reports statistics each quarter based on totals provided by member companies, which represent some 90 percent of the North American industrial robot market.

According to Vincent, small and medium-sized companies will be among the target audience for this year's biennial International Robots & Vision Show and Conference at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL, Sept. 27-29. For more information on RIA and the robotics industry, visit www.roboticsonline.com or call 734-994-6088.