Robot boom in US manufacturing is fuelled by strong supplier base

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Robot sales in North America reached a record $2bn in 2021 driven by urgent manufacturing challenges such as labour shortages, supply chain disruptions, and more. The U.S. robotics industry has proven exceptional at meeting demand according to report from HowToRobot, Gain & Co and The Association for Advancing Automation (A3).

Robotics and automation are picking up fast among manufacturers in North America with 2021 bringing about record sales of 39,708 robots - a dramatic increase of 28% over 2020. A strong robot supplier and integrator presence in the U.S. is fuelling the growth showing an outstanding ability for implementation, the new report shows.

"What makes robotics companies in the U.S. unique is their ability to take existing technologies from across the globe and adapt them to real-life manufacturing needs. This is particularly useful in the current situation where automation is urgently needed," said Søren Peters, Group CEO of HowToRobot and Gain & Co.

"Robotics technology is transforming the way business is done across a wide variety of industries, from mature segments like automotive to relatively new areas like retail, construction, and agriculture," said Alex Shikany, Vice President of A3.

"Companies of all sizes are realizing at record rates that robotics and related automation technologies increase productivity, provide better working environments and career opportunities for employees, and are a necessity to compete on the world stage."

The U.S. has an exceptionally high share of systems integrators covering the market, the report shows. 69 % of the 1,187 robot suppliers in the U.S. covered by the research are systems integrators - meaning companies that sell and often implement integrated automation solutions with robots (but typically do not manufacture the robots themselves). This is a relatively high share of integrators compared to the average of 45% across 19 other countries studied by HowToRobot. 12% of the suppliers based in the U.S. manufacture robots.

Robot orders picking up across a range of industries

The robot growth in North America is fuelled by robot adoption becoming more mainstream as new sectors start picking up on automation. 2021 was also the second year in a row that robot orders from outside of the automotive industry overtook automotive, which traditionally has been the largest purchaser of robots. Non-automotive orders now represent 58% of the North American total. Unit sales to non-automotive industries saw the following increases in 2021 over 2020:

  • Metals: up 91% over 2020
  • Food and consumer goods: up 29%
  • Semiconductors and electronics/photonics: up 2%
  • Plastics and rubber: up 4%
  • Life sciences/pharma/biomed: up 4%
  • All other industries: up 65%

U.S. robotics companies adopt global robot brands

The U.S. robotics industry is mostly implementing solutions with robots manufactured in other countries. Of the top 16 brands analysed, all of them are from outside the U.S. (though the two Danish robot firms Universal Robots and MiR are both owned today by U.S.-based Teradyne).

Other characteristics of the robot suppliers in the U.S. from the report:

  • Most robot suppliers are located in the Midwest region (47 % of the 1,906 supplier offices in the U.S. are based here).
  • Despite other industries picking up on automation, the Metal & Machinery and Automotive sectors remain the primary focus of most U.S.-based robot suppliers with 50 % and 46 % of suppliers serving these two sectors respectively.
  • The most popular specializations among robot suppliers in the U.S. are automation of handling & picking (69 % of suppliers), assembly (45 %), inspection & quality assurance (32 %), machine tending (29 %), and welding (27 %).