Companies ordered more robots in 2022

The automotive industry was a primary driver, fueling over half of sales.
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

Hot tip: Robots are trending up—for the second year in a row.

That’s according to a report from the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), which tracks industrial robot sales in North America. In 2022, companies ordered 44,196 robots in total, totaling $2.38 billion in sales. That’s 11% more robots—and 18% more in sales—than in 2021.

“[It was a] record year,” Jeff Burnstein, president of A3, told us, adding, “The reality is every industry is automating now.”

In particular…The automotive industry was a primary driver in 2022’s robo boom, fueling more than 50% of sales with 23,807 robot orders. It’s a spike in a market that’s typically cyclical, depending on when automotive manufacturers are working on new products, Burnstein told us.

“The key driver, in addition to labor shortages that’s making everybody need to automate, is the transition to electric vehicles in the automotive industry,” Burnstein said. “They need to retool their manufacturing processes; they need to build things like batteries, and so there’s a whole lot of manufacturing involving robotics and other automation connected to electric vehicles. And that drove a lot of the sales in 2022.”

Another potential sales driver, he mentioned, is that in recent years, industrial robot applications for the automotive industry have expanded to collaborative uses—robots working alongside humans—in areas like final assembly and even welding.

John Deere, for example, has leaned further into agricultural robotics in recent years, making a number of acquisitions in an effort to further its autonomous-tractor goals. The agtech giant acquired Bear Flag Robotics in 2021; and in 2022, it purchased a majority stake in Kreisel Electric, a battery tech company, and acquired a camera-based perception startup called Light. And in November, Ford announced a partnership with Rockwell Automation intended to boost EV manufacturing at its facilities in Ohio, Tennessee, and Oakville, Ontario.

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As for the other industries contributing to robot sales? Food service, agriculture, construction, retail, hospitality, and more. Burnstein mentioned changes in light of labor shortages, supply-chain issues, and more manufacturing practices coming stateside.

“Retail companies, restaurants, hospitals, and hotels…started saying, ‘Hey, we can’t find people—we need to stay in business, so if there are good automated solutions out there, we want to try,’” Burnstein said. “The technology is improving, the costs are coming down, [and] ease of use is improving. So the technology is now available to a lot of companies than ever before.”

Despite the overall upward trajectory for the year, robot sales slowed in Q4 2022. Overall, orders from sectors other than the automotive industry also declined from the previous three years. Burnstein pointed to normal economic fluctuations as one factor contributing to the decline.

For instance, Amazon has notably slowed down its warehouse expansion, including reports of backing out of a 12-year lease for last-mile delivery warehouse space in West Covina, California, before it was signed.

“I try to avoid predicting because that’s just not something that you can easily do,” Burnsteid said. But, he added, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we were slightly ahead [next year]. I don’t think we’ll be as far ahead in 2023 as we were in 2022, compared to 2021, because of the economic issues, the slowdown that we’re seeing.”

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