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Blog: North American Automakers on Robotics Buying Surge in 2022

Blog: North American Automakers on Robotics Buying Surge in 2022

Record robotics purchases and installations in the North American automotive industry reached new heights in 2022, but 2023 may see that trend slowing.
As efforts to onshore manufacturing continue in the face of rising costs, labor shortages, and supply chain concerns, statistics on robot sales indicate that progress is being made.

Recent research from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) shows that North American industrial robot installations for manufacturing grew by 12 percent in 2022 to reach 41,624 units. The largest contributor to that figure was the automotive industry in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Combined, the three countries installed 20,391 industrial robots in 2022, or 30 percent more year-over-year.

But other industries factored in as well. Accounting for more than 4,000 units each were electrical/electronics, up by 28 percent in 2022 over 2021; metal and machinery, down 9 percent; as well as plastic and chemical products, down 4 percent. These three sectors each represented 9 percent of industrial robot installations market share in 2022.

“North America represents the second largest operational stock of industrial robots in the world after China,” said Marina Bill, IFR president, in a statement. “The United States, Canada, and Mexico are key markets in the global growth of robotics automation, and the automotive sector is leading the way.”

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Similar news came out of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), which recently reported that in 2022, North American companies ordered 44,196 robots, up 11 percent more over 2021, at a value of $2.38 billion, up 18 percent.

A3 attributes more than half of these sales to the automotive industry’s purchase of 23,807 robots in 2022, compared to 16,752 in 2021

“Although labor shortage and supply chain issues impact nearly all industries in North America, automakers’ public commitment to move to electric vehicles has set in motion a resurgence of robot orders in this market,” said Jeff Burnstein, A3 president, in a statement. “Automotive OEMs and components suppliers alike recognize that investing in robots is instrumental to the emergence of EVs as well as to manufacturing all vehicles as they compete to meet customer demand.”

This builds upon figures that IFR released in March that showed the automotive industry has the largest number of robots worldwide. The industry’s operational stock hit a new record of about one million units, or approximately one-third of all installations across all industries.

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Among the top automaking countries, the United States sits in third with 1,457 industrial robots per 10,000 employees in 2021, behind the Republic of Korea with 2,867, and Germany with 1,500.

However, IFR notes that China, the world´s largest car manufacturer, has a robot density of 772 units, with new robot installations in its automotive industry almost doubling to 61,598 units in 2021—accounting for 52 percent of the 119,405 total units installed in factories around the world.

The agency credits electric vehicle targets for some of this automation boom, further noting that most automotive manufacturers that have traditional caged industrial robots for basic assembling are also investing in collaborative applications for final assembly and finishing tasks.

But after such a strong 2022, those numbers appear to be slowing down this year. In May, A3 released a new report indicating that North American companies ordered 9,168 units valued at $597 million in Q1 2023, representing a 21 percent drop in total units and a 10 percent drop in value over the same quarter in 2022, which was the third-best quarter on record for North America.

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“While inflation and a slowing U.S. economy may have taken a slight toll on robot orders overall, automotive companies continue to accelerate their purchases as they make the transition to manufacturing electric vehicles,” Burnstein stated, as the automotive industry again led the charge, purchasing 5,659 robots or 68 percent of all orders in the first quarter of 2023.

Countering labor shortages and economic woes continues to push the onshoring efforts of manufacturers across industries, as “Many find that the best way to bring manufacturing back quickly is to automate,” stated Alex Shikany, A3’s vice president of membership and business intelligence.

Louise Poirier is senior editor.

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