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May 23, 2017
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North American robotics orders jump 32 percent in first quarter

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Growth is driven as Amazon and GM invest in automation, the industry's trade group says.

The North American robotics market jumped 32 percent in order volume for the first quarter, as industrial and retail giants such as General Motors Co. and Amazon.com Inc. increase their investment in automation, according to the industry's trade group.

Both robot orders and shipments achieved record levels, according to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). RIA estimates that 250,000 robots are now in use in the United States, the third highest in the world behind Japan and China.

An all-time high total of 9,773 robots—valued at $516 million—were ordered from North American robotics companies during the first quarter of 2017, representing growth of 32 percent in units over the same period in 2016, RIA said.

At the same time, robot shipments also reached new heights, with 8,824 robots—valued at $494 million—shipped to North American customers in the opening quarter of the year, reaching growth of 24 percent in units (and five percent in dollars) over the same period in 2016, according to RIA.

"The automation industry continues to grow robustly as companies invest to increase productivity and boost competitiveness while also providing opportunities for workers," RIA President Jeff Burnstein said in a release. "We are excited to hear about the new jobs being created and how companies such as Amazon, GM, and others are training and retraining their workforce to enable them to embrace these higher-skilled jobs."

The driving force behind the fast growth came largely from the automotive sector, where robots ordered by automotive component suppliers were up 53 percent, while orders by automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) increased 32 percent, RIA said. Orders also came from a diversity of other sectors, including non-automotive industries like metals (54 percent), semiconductors/electronics (22 percent), and food and consumer goods (15 percent), according to RIA.

Material handling also continues to be a driving force for robotic adoption, as shown by burgeoning attendance at Automate 2017, the robotics trade show held alongside the ProMat conference in Chicago in April, according to RIA's parent group, the Association for Advancing Automation (A3). The Automate show drew more than 20,000 people and featured more than 400 exhibitors displaying everything from robotics to motion control, motors, vision systems, metrology, software, and system integration services.

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