Robot slow down

North American robotics companies saw orders from North American customers fall 4% in the second quarter of 2002 versus the comparable period last year.

North American robotics companies saw orders from North American customers fall 4% in the second quarter of 2002 versus the comparable period last year, according to new statistics from the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the US industry’s trade group.

Through the first six months of 2002, new robot orders from North America totalled 4,859 units valued at $337.9 million, a decline of 1% in units and an increase of 2% in revenue when compared with the first half of 2001. When orders from outside North America are included, unit sales fell 6% and revenue declined 2% in the first half of 2002.

”It’s clear that the robotics market continues to suffer from the weak US economy and the slowdown in capital equipment spending,” said Donald A. Vincent, RIA’s Executive Vice President.

”The robotics industry is in the same boat as several other factory automation industries, such as machine vision, automated metrology equipment and machine tools, who also face stiff challenges in getting customers to invest in new technology in the current economic environment. This will eventually change, but nobody knows how soon.”

Vincent is encouraged by an upturn in orders for material handling, arc welding, and dispensing and coating robots in the second quarter.

”Material handling robots are sold into a broad range of industries and represent the largest application area for the industry. New orders grew 20% in the second quarter, reversing several quarters of declines. Growth in material handling orders usually indicates that the robotics industry is making inroads in reaching customers in industries such as consumer goods, food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, and other non-automotive markets, a key to our long-term success,’ he said.

‘At the same time, spot welding orders fell 46%. Spot welding robots are sold primarily to the automotive industry, where customers often place large orders of several hundred units at a time. This application is very cyclical, and one large order can produce big swings in the quarterly comparisons. Without such a steep decline in spot welding orders in the second quarter, the robotics industry actually would have posted overall gains in orders in the first half of the year,” Vincent explained.

RIA estimates that some 122,000 robots are now at use in United States factories, placing the US second only to Japan in robot use.

RIA collects and reports statistics each quarter based on actual totals provided by member companies, which RIA estimates represents over 90% of the North American robotics market.