A3 President Jeff Burnstein recaps Automate 2024, turns attention to robotics market

Burnstein says robot spending demand has not slowed


Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) caught up with Robotics 24/7 post Automate 2024.
Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) sat down to recap Automate 2024 and provide some analysis on the robot spending market with Robotics 24/7.

Jeff Burnstein, president of A3, is a busy man.

In early May, over 40,000 people descended on Chicago’s McCormick Place for Automate 2024, one of the world’s largest trade shows for robotics and automation.

Burnstein recently spoke to Robotics 24/7 about the show, and the state of the robotics industry as we turn the corner into the second half of 2024 and look forward to 2025.

Automate 2024 recap

What were your general thoughts about Automate 2024 in Chicago? It seemed like a very lively crowd with a lot of enthusiasm.

Burnstein: It was our best show ever. It was our largest in every way, biggest floor space, 870 or so exhibitors, the square footage was the largest it's ever been. The number of registrants was over 43,000, I think. Every one of those metrics was well beyond anything that we've done before, so that was great.

Feedback was tremendous and I think one of the most significant statistics for me is that next year's show in Detroit was 80% sold out when we left Chicago. So that was pretty good news.

In terms of the speakers, attendees and everybody that was at the show, were there any insights or statistics that really stood out to you from a trends or topics perspective?

Burnstein: One that I made a point of attending was the humanoid robot forum in the theater because we're holding a Humanoid Robot Forum in Memphis later this year. I really wanted to hear where the four companies that were on the panel were and it was a great discussion.

I really thought it was excellent because there are a lot of us, including myself, who are skeptical about how quickly this is coming. But listening to them talk about it, they understood the skepticism and they shared it. The speakers realized that this is not going to be easy, but they are making significant progress – and maybe more progress than I was aware of in talking to them individually.

And that's why I'm really looking forward to that forum in Memphis in October.

Humanoids in the warehouse?

We’ve seen a lot of recent chatter about humanoids in the warehouse space. But, there’s still some skepticism. So many warehouses and logistics spaces currently deploy AMRs or AGVs, so how can we view humanoids in this sector? What about other sectors with humanoids?

Burnstein: I know organizations like Apptronik are showing videos of a mobile base with a sort of half-humanoid, two-armed robot on top of it. There may be other ways to navigate there or maybe some specific tasks. We see Digit when Agility Robotics shows their demos at trade shows, they usually have Digit unloading a conveyor or doing another specific task…

But one of the one of the things that interests me is the automotive space. We talk about the logistics space, but three of the pilots that I'm aware of are in automotive. You've got BMW and Mercedes and of course Tesla doing whatever it is they're doing. You have three automotive companies basically testing these out and then Magna being involved with one of the companies. That's interesting, because as someone who saw the development of the industrial robot industry, automotive was what really jump started everything.

Robot spending market highlights

A3 released a market insight report about how North American robot orders dropped for the second quarter of 2023, but you were touting positive spending moving into 2024. Now being at the midway point of the year and post Automate, how does the rest of this year and 2025 look?

Burnstein: We're still very positive. I think when we talked last, we were projecting probably the second half of this year's orders would start to turn up. I still believe that's true.

The first quarter was down I think 6% in orders, but we're making our way back. That's a lot better than the 30% we were down for the last year or so. I feel like the second half of the year is going to be strong and the interest at Automate really tells me that what I had been hearing prior to the show is accurate.

Demand hasn't really slowed. What slowed was the financial reasons for companies and not wanting to make investments now at such high interest rates. Some companies are still getting used to their first robot installations because there's a lot of new customers out there. They're still making sure on the ROI, but I don't see anything that alarms me about the future.

In terms of industries for more spending later in the year, along with automotive, what is A3 seeing in this space for the second half of 2024 and into 2025 for robotics and automation spending?

Burnstein: It varies by company of course, but we're seeing a lot of interest in the usual suspects beyond automotive. Electronics and consumer goods and pharmaceuticals and things like that.

But healthcare is one that keeps sort of jumping up. There are hospitals expressing interest in using robots in different ways, and medical device companies, and it just seems like that's one I heard a little bit more about at this show.

Of course, construction and agriculture we continue to hear about and I think there's opportunities in all of those. I expect to even see things like retail and restaurants still popping up even stronger than I had been aware of. There’s a lot of opportunity out there.

Manufacturing and cobot increased attention

We’re also seeing a lot about higher investments in the manufacturing sector with automation projects. What is A3 seeing about the manufacturing industry?

Burnstein: I think you're going to see continued growth in manufacturing in part because of reshoring of parts of the supply chain. I just think there's so many more opportunities in this sector. I'll tell you another thing from Automate, I was stunned by the number of collaborative robots that were on display.

Overall, we saw several new vendors and new applications at the show. It's funny because these things go in waves. When collaborative robots first hit the market there was a lot of excitement and then it kind of died down for a while but now, Automate was dominated by them. It opens up new applications in manufacturing as well. I think because of ease of use and a specific lack of people to do certain tasks, you're going to see continued growth in manufacturing.

On the collaborative front, one of our conversations at Automate went into how cobots right now are in the “Wild West” because there isn’t an industry standard for what makes a “collaborative” robot. What are your thoughts on the definition of collaborative robots and how cobots are involved in the robotics industry?

Burnstein: I suppose we can call it more of collaborative applications. There's no such thing as a collaborative robot. You could have a major industrial robot working collaboratively with a person if it's safeguarded properly. But we really don't have a good definition of a collaborative robot. It's used in the normal language in our industry that people have to describe a robot that you can work side by side with. It's usually smaller and has less payload, so that's generally the way people describe those arms versus big arms. They can also work side by side with people, with the proper safeguarding.

About the Author

Tim Culverhouse's avatar
Tim Culverhouse
Tim is the Editorial Director of Robotics247.com. His mission is to provide valuable information and insights to robotics professionals and decision-makers, and to help them solve business challenges. He is a creative, deadline-driven, and detail-oriented storyteller. In addition, he is a sports broadcaster and public address announcer.
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Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) caught up with Robotics 24/7 post Automate 2024.

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