North American companies, mainly in the United States and some in Canada and Mexico, ordered just over 44,100 robots in 2022, according to data compiled by the Association for Advancing Automation (A3).
The value of those machines totaled $2.38 billion, an 18 percent increase over the prior year.
The 11 percent growth in the number of robots ordered and a new record assumes significance because North American companies are struggling to hire workers in the tightest labor market.
The labor shortage doesn’t seem to be letting up, said Jeff Burnstein, president of A3. Many companies, scrambling to find workers amid the lowest U.S. unemployment rate since 1969, see automation as a quick fix.
Jeff Burnstein said there was a visible slowdown in orders at the end of the year, which raises a question about how 2023 will evolve. The fourth quarter was propped up by the strength in the auto industry, he said.
A shift away from pandemic-era consumer behavior likely played a role in the orders drop-off in some segments. E-commerce companies like Amazon put a pause on building new warehouses, which means they probably canceled or delayed purchases of new automation.
Supply chain problems may also have distorted last year’s results. Jeff Burnstein said robot makers saw some customers place extra orders during the COVID-19 health crisis – just to ensure they would get part of what they needed.
More than half of last year’s orders came from automakers and their suppliers – a group that has long led the way in automation of U.S. factories.
New plants for electric vehicles, batteries and battery recycling have been announced since 2021 at a cost of $160 billion, according to Atlas Public Policy.
Most robots ordered last year will be used for material handling – an expansive category that includes all types of movement and handling of goods inside factories and warehouses.
Closure Systems International’s plant in Crawfordsville, Indiana, for instance, recently automated the job of packing and sealing boxes at the end of the assembly line. The company produces closures used for things like soda bottles and food packages, Reuters news report said.
Brad Bennett, senior vice president of global operations, said small robots will be installed in the booths to do the inspection work. “We won’t have to reduce people,” he said. Those workers will move to other tasks.