ANN ARBOR, MI—North American robot orders in the first quarter of 2021 were up 20 percent over the same period in 2020, according to industry statistics recently released by the Association for Advancing Automation (A3). North American companies purchased 9,098 units valued at $466 million during this time, with non-automotive companies purchasing 28 percent more robots over Q1 2020, and automotive OEMs and component suppliers combined seeing a 12 percent increase year-over-year.

The strong Q1 for robot orders was the second-best start to any year on record (2017) and the second-best quarter on record for non-automotive orders, behind Q4 of 2020.  Q4 2020 was also the second-best quarter ever for North America robot sales with a 64 percent increase over Q4 2019. In 2020 overall, for the first time, yearly orders of robots from non-automotive sectors surpassed automotive robot orders, as sales of robotic units in North America increased 4 percent in 2020 from 2019.

“Robot sales have increased considerably as more and more companies in every industry recognize that robotics and automation can help them compete globally,” says Jeff Burnstein, president of A3. “While advances in robot technology, ease of use, and new applications remain key drivers in robot adoption, worker shortages in manufacturing, warehousing, and other industries are a significant factor in the current expansion of robot use that we’re now seeing. COVID didn’t create the move toward automation, but certainly has accelerated trends that already were underway.”

While robotic purchases from automotive manufacturers can be highly cyclical, the increase from non-automotive companies, especially in metals, life sciences, and food and consumer goods, shows a promising outlook for the growth of the robotics and automation industry overall.

“We expect increasing demand for robotics and automation to continue in North America and throughout the world after the pandemic has ended,” adds Burnstein. “We also expect that the increased use of automation will help companies be better prepared to face any future pandemics.”