Under pressure from a turbulent market for interest rates, inflation, and labor, North American companies started the year by purchasing the most robots ever in a single quarter, with 11,595 robots sold at a value of $646 million, a new report shows.
Those first quarter statistics represent growth of 28% in units sold and 43% in revenue over the same quarter last year, according to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3). And in comparison to the previous high water marks—which were set just three months ago in the fourth quarter of 2021—they show growth of 7% and 25% respectively.
Throughout the early decades of robotics sector growth, the automotive industry drove more demand than other businesses. However, the first quarter of 2022 marked the seventh out of the last nine quarters where non-automotive customers have ordered more robots than automotive customers, Ann Arbor, Michigan-based A3 found.
Overall, non-automotive customers ordered 6,122 units in the first quarter, compared to 5,476 ordered by automotive-related customers. Measured by the number of units ordered, that growth was generated by: metals (up 40%), plastics and rubber (29%), semiconductors and electronics/photonics (23%), food and consumer goods (21%), life sciences/pharma/biomed (14%), all other industries (56%).
“As robots continually become easier to use and more affordable, we expect to see adoption continue to rise in every industry, and at companies of all sizes,” Jeff Burnstein, president of A3, said in a release. “There are hundreds of thousands of companies in North America who have yet to install even one robot.”
While that growth was encouraging for the entire robotics sector, one nation in particular is poised to capitalize on most of the trend. A separate report on the expansion of the collaborative robot (cobot) sector forecasted that China will lead the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Americas regions in shipments, jumping from a market share of 49.1% in 2021 to 54.4% in 2026.
Driven by the logistics and service industries, the cobot sector showed 45% growth in 2021 as part of a post-pandemic rebound, and is predicted to continue with growth rates just over 20% through 2026, according to the British consulting firm Interact Analysis. As one slice of that picture, the Americas are forecasted to post a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.4%, which would rank it with the smallest market share compared to other regions.
However, the future robotics market looks strong worldwide as many sectors seek answers to labor shortages, the Interact Analysis report said. A strong uptake in collaborative robot usage within the medical, education, logistics, and catering fields will likely drive that market to grow to three times its 2021 size by 2026.
“As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the issue of labor shortages is seemingly never ending,” Maya Xiao, senior analyst at Interact Analysis, said in a release. “Our research shows that once one competitor invests in collaborative robots, and it is seen to work, there is a ripple effect. In 2021, global cobot shipments achieved a phenomenal year-on-year increase of 44.6%. Collaborative robots are being used as a form of ‘future-proofing’ because the pandemic creates so much uncertainty that companies don’t know what to expect next. Annually, we predict a 20-30% growth rate for the market, right out to 2026.”