ANN ARBOR, MI-New orders for North American robotics companies fell 30 percent in the first quarter of 2006, according to statistics released by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA).

ANN ARBOR, MI-New orders for North American robotics companies fell 30 percent in the first quarter of 2006, according to statistics released by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA).

A 39 percent decline in purchases by automotive OEMs and component suppliers was the major contributor to the downturn, according to RIA. The automotive industry is the largest customer for robotics, accounting for more than 60 percent of all robot purchases in North America.

"The automotive OEMs and their tier one supplier markets are cyclical in terms of their purchases of robots," says RIA Executive Vice President, Don Vincent. "We saw a big spike in automotive OEM and Tier 1 purchases at the beginning of 2005, when we had a record start to the year, so we're not surprised to see a downturn this quarter. Also, given the economic difficulties faced by the automotive industry, it is possible that new investments in technologies such as robotics were delayed."

Vincent says he is encouraged by the fact that sales of robots to nonautomotive industries such as food, consumer goods, pharmaceuticals and life sciences increased in the first quarter. As a result, the nonautomotive share of robot orders rose to 40 percent, compared with 30 percent in the first quarter of 2005.

"For the robotics industry to reach its full potential, we know that growth is needed in the nonautomotive sectors as well as in automotive, so the increased share for nonautomotive orders can be viewed as a positive sign," Vincent says.

North American manufacturing companies ordered a total of 3,722 robots valued at $272 million between January and March. When orders received by companies outside North America are included, the totals rise to 3,983 robots valued at $285.3 million.

RIA estimates that some 160,000 robots are now installed in American factories, placing the United States second only to Japan in robot use.