Design Engineering

North American robot orders fall 21% in 2008

By Design Engineering staff   

General Robotics sales

However, the industry seems optimistic thanks to the fact that non-automotive orders rose for the first time since 25 years ago.

North American based robotics companies report that new orders sold to North American manufacturing companies fell by 21 percent in units and 16 percent in dollars in 2008 compared to 2007.  The sharp decline accelerated in the fourth quarter when orders fell by 26 percent in units and 33 percent in dollars compared with last year.

A total of 12,557 robots valued at US$894.9 million were ordered by North American companies in 2008, down from 15,856 robots valued at US$1.07 billion last year.


“2008 was extremely difficult for our members and 2009 likely will be a very rough year as manufacturing companies throughout the world deal with the global economic crisis,” said Jeffrey Burnstein, executive vice-president of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry’s trade group.

“Capital equipment expenditures are slowing dramatically in the automotive industry, traditionally the largest customer for robotics,” he said. “In 2008, orders from automotive OEMs and their suppliers fell 37 percent in units and 32 percent in dollars.”

Despite the current difficulties in the automotive industry, there is reason for optimism, said Tammy Mulcahy of ABB Robotics, Chair of RIA’s Statistics Committee.

“In times of rising energy costs and rising environmental awareness, the demand for smaller, more economical, environmentally friendly and lower cost cars, are becoming increasingly important,” she noted. “In order to meet these demands in the short term, the car companies will have to restructure and to speed up development of these types of new models. I am sure the automotive industry will introduce new cars with less consumption, reduced emission and innovative technology. This will require new automation technology throughout the value chain. Robotics will surely benefit from such investments.”

Burnstein noted that there’s also reason for optimism based on the strong non-automotive results in 2008.

“Non-automotive orders rose nine percent in units and seven percent in dollars over 2007.  The strongest gains came in the semiconductor/electronics/photonics markets, where units rose 63 percent and dollars jumped 55 percent,” he explained.

“Non-automotive orders actually topped automotive orders, in terms of dollars, for the first time since we began collecting numbers 25 years ago,” Burnstein noted.  “In terms of units, the breakdown was 51 percent automotive, 49 percent non-automotive.”


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