The future of the robotics industry

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In late 2005, the North American robotics industry was a promising gateway to a more technologically advanced, more sophisticated manufacturing sector. At the time, manufacturers had impressively shipped 15,791 robots for close to $1 billion in the first nine months of that year.

An article in Managing Automation (free registration required) reveals that the numbers haven’t been so staggering in the ensuing years. The robotics industry slumped until the beginning of 2010, when a strong surge was seen. In the first three quarters of 2010, 9,628 robots were shipped to domestic manufacturers, reaching $618.4 million in sales. These numbers were 34% and 45% (respectively) higher than in 2009 (though still not matching the high numbers of 2005). Outside North America, manufacturers contracted for 1,778 robots, adding $102.6 million to 2010 revenues.

North American robotics manufacturers have always relied heavily on sales made to the automotive industry, which remains the “single biggest buying bloc” for their products. In 2010, however, robotics sales picked up in other industries too. According to Managing Automation, “Orders [were] up 124% [last] year in semiconductor/electronics/photonics, 99% among metals manufacturers, and 62% among plastics and rubber producers.” For robotics companies, this is great news– it means less dependence on a single industry and the opportunity to expand into new markets.

The market expansion is due largely to new robotics technologies and applications. Robots now are capable of performing more advanced operations, and consequently could be useful in more industries and work environments. Researchers are also working on making robots safer and more interactive with the humans around them. Our Jetsons era, where we’re working with and alongside robots, may be closely approaching.

Tell us what you think… With 2011 underway, do you think the growth in robotics will continue? Will other industries explore the potential of robotics? What other applications and technologies will spring forth? And what will it be like to have a robot as your manufacturing partner?

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