Assemblers continue to invest in robots. Following a strong year in 2012, the North American robotics market recorded its best year ever in 2013 in terms of robot shipments, according to new statistics from Robotic Industries Association (RIA).

A total of 22,591 robots valued at $1.39 billion were shipped to companies in North America in 2013, beating the previous record of 20,328 robots valued at $1.29 billion shipped in 2012. These new records for robotic shipments represent growth of 11 percent in units and 7 percent in dollars. When sales by North American robot suppliers to companies outside North America are included, the totals are 25,772 robots valued at $1.57 billion.

In terms of applications for robot orders, increases were seen in assembly (61 percent), material handling (13 percent), and coating and dispensing (5 percent).

Such investment will likely continue next year. According to ASSEMBLY magazine’s 18th annual Capital Equipment Spending Survey, 13 percent of assembly plants will buy SCARAs, grippers, tool changers and other robotic technologies in 2014, up from 11 percent this year. All totaled, assemblers will spend $103 million on robots next year, 18 percent more than in 2013 and the most in three years.

It’s not just U.S. manufacturers that are investing in robotics, either. Worldwide, the industrial robotics market has fully recovered from the Great Recession, according to consulting firm Markets and Markets. The global market for industrial robotics was approximately $25.7 billion in 2012 and is expected to reach $32.8 billion in 2017, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5 percent. In terms of units, shipments of robots will increase from 176,586 machines in 2012 to 234,122 machines in 2017—a CAGR of 5.8 percent.

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) paints a similarly rosy picture. “The robotics industry is looking at a bright future!” says Shinsuke Sakakibara, Ph.D., IFR president. “In 2013, global robot sales will increase by about 2 percent, to 162,000 units. …Between 2014 and 2016, worldwide robot sales will increase by about 6 percent, on average, per year.”

Robot sales are expected to grow in North America, Brazil, Korea, China, Southeast Asia, Turkey and Eastern Europe. In China alone, robot sales increased, on average, by 25 percent per year between 2005 and 2012, reaching 23,000 units in 2012. Moreover, that figure does not include sales of robots produced by local Chinese manufacturers.

The IFR’s growth prediction is based on the huge potential for further penetration of industrial segments, such as electronics, and the on-going industrialization of emerging countries. “New technologies are opening doors to completely new applications for robots,” says Andreas Bauer, chairman of the IFR’s Industrial Robot Suppliers Group. “Particularly impressive are the developments regarding human-robot cooperation.”

The RIA estimates that approximately 228,000 robots are now in use at U.S. factories, placing the United States second only to Japan in robot use. “Many observers believe that only about 10 percent of U.S. companies that could benefit from robots have installed any so far,” says RIA president Jeff Burnstein. “A very large segment of small- and medium-sized companies that may have the most to gain are just now beginning to seriously investigate robotics.”

Share your thoughts! Will robot sales continue to increase in manufacturing? Does your assembly plant employ robots? Is it planning to? Could your assembly operation benefit from robots? Do you know any interesting manufacturing applications for robots?