Robot Sales Reach New Records in 2021, Reports Association for Advancing Automation

A3 says that $2 billion in sales in 2021, a 28% increase over 2020, and 14% over the previous record in 2017.


In 2021, more companies such as Delphon looked to robots, such as Rapid Machine Operators shown here, to increase productivity and alleviate labor shortages.
Skilled labor shortages and the need for efficiency continued to drive strong robot adoption in several sectors outside the automotive industry last year, reported A3.

The number of robots sold in North America set a new record in 2021, with 39,708 units sold at a value of $2 billion, a 14% increase over the previous high in 2017, said the Association for Advancing Automation, or A3, today. The organization said the growth was “propelled by a surge in non-automotive sectors.”

“More industries recognized that robotics could help reverse productivity declines and fill repetitive jobs human workers don’t want,” stated Jeff Burnstein, president of A3. “It is no longer a choice whether to deploy robots and automation. It’s now an absolute imperative.”

“As we’ve long believed—and users continue to confirm—robots help companies compete, ultimately creating more jobs to handle their growth,” he added.

A3 said it is a leading global advocate for the benefits of automation. Its membership includes nearly 1,100 automation manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, academic institutions, research groups, and consulting firms around the world.

Robots continue to spread beyond automakers

The number of robots sold in 2021 rose 28% over 2020, according to A3. It noted that fourth-quarter robot sales set new records and were up 9% over Q4 2020, demonstrating the continuing momentum of the previous nine months as more industries adopt automation.

Non-automotive orders now represent 58% of the North American total, said A3. It said that unit sales to non-automotive industries experienced the following increases in 2021 over the previous year:

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

“Improvements in technology, new financing models, and simpler applications continue to be positive trend lines leading into 2022, in particular helping small companies automate and join the global stage,” Burnstein said.

“Hiring technicians and machine operators in the Bay Area is always difficult, and it became even harder during the pandemic,” said Joe Montano, president and CEO of Delphon, a customer of A3 member Rapid Robotics. “Meanwhile, a new generation of rentable robots had made the costs feasible for facilities like ours to make a measured entry into automation.”

“By hiring robots to operate machines for pad printing and component cleaning, we were able to redeploy eight operators to other jobs and see a $70,000 return on investment in less than a year,” he said.

2021 Q4 sales and value explained

October through December of 2021 marked the highest and second-highest quarter on record for units and revenue, respectively, said A3. Non-automotive customers ordered 6,618 robots in Q4, which represents 61% of total units ordered.

Automotive-related customers purchased 4,211 units, 39% of total orders. The following non-automotive industries in Q4 saw increases over the same quarter in 2020:

  • Metals: Up 23%  
  • Food and consumer goods: Up 14%  
  • Semiconductors and electronics/photonics:  Up 12%  
  • Plastics and rubber: Down 25%  
  • All other industries:  Up 74%  

A3 events continue

In addition to the Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) and Logistics Conference last October, A3 said it offers the following opportunities for the industry to gather:

Registration for Automate 2022 is open. The event will host leading manufacturers and systems integrators in robotics, machine vision, motion control, artificial intelligence, and smart automation, said A3.

For nearly five decades, the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), AIA-Advancing Vision + Imaging (AIA), and the Motion Control and Motors Association (MCMA), along with A3 Mexico, have played a key role in helping automation technologies become among the most critical tools of the 21st Century. As these technologies have converged, our association has had a convergence of its own. We are now the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), one trade group.

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In 2021, more companies such as Delphon looked to robots, such as Rapid Machine Operators shown here, to increase productivity and alleviate labor shortages.

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