U.S. Companies Put Record Number of Robots to Work in 2018
ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – March 6, 2019
U.S. companies installed more robots last year than ever before, as cheaper and more flexible machines put them within reach of businesses of all sizes and in more corners of the economy beyond their traditional foothold in car plants.
Shipments hit 28,478, nearly 16% more than in 2017, according to data seen by Reuters that was set for release on Thursday by the Association for Advancing Automation, an industry group based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
In general, in North America, the number of deliveries to non-automotive companies increased by 41% to 16,702, Meanwhile, shipments to the automotive industry slowed, with only 19,178 units shipped to North American automotive OEM and tier supplier customers in 2018. This was 12% lower than the 21,732 units shipped in 2017. Overall, the automotive industry accounted for only 53% of total robot shipments in North America in 2018--the lowest percentage share since 2010.
There was a noticeable increase in industries such as food and household goods (48%), plastics and rubber (37%), biotechnologies (31%) and electronics (22%).
"While the automotive industry has always led the way in implementing robotics here in North America, we are quite pleased to see other industries continuing to realize the benefits of automation," said A3 President Jeff Burnstein. "And as we’ve heard from our members and at shows such as Automate, these sales and shipments aren’t just to large, multinational companies anymore. Small and medium-sized companies are using robots to solve real-world challenges, which is helping them be more competitive on a global scale."
A3 Vice President Bob Doyle notes that automation is moving beyond automotive manufacturing and other large manufacturers and into warehouses and smaller factories.
One of those is Metro Plastics Technologies Inc, a family-owned business in Noblesville, Indiana, which has only 125 employees and got its start in the 1970s making, among other things, mood rings. Last March, the company bought its first robot, an autonomous machine that carries finished parts from the production area to quality inspectors. In the past, that work was done by workers driving forklifts.
The robot costs $40,000, which is significantly lower than the cost of machines -- $ 125,000. At that, far from the cheapest option was chosen -- it was possible to buy a similar robot at a price of almost two times less.
Thus, automation can really help a business reduce costs not only for labor, but also for equipment used by biological employees.
The process about which we have written many times is gaining momentum.
The most important thing in this case is not absolute numbers (they are still relatively small), but the fact that robots are becoming available for small and medium-sized businesses, and this is a forerunner of the production revolution, analogous to the one that occurred after computers became available not only to large corporations but also small businesses.