Article By: Kathryn Gerardino-Elagio
Robots market has grown over the past decade, offering one-off solutions to multifaceted challenges and pushing effectiveness in our day-to-day lives. While these developments have advanced year after year, the arrival of COVID-19 has stirred the robotics and automation industry. As life drastically changed and businesses were forced to operate in new ways, robots were not only leveraged to adapt to current circumstances, but to prepare for those to come.
According to industry stats announced by the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), robot orders in the first quarter of 2021 were up by 20% over the same period in 2020, with substantial increases in purchases coming from companies in metals (up 86%), life sciences/ pharmaceutical/biomed (up 72%), food & consumer goods (up 32%), and other non-automotive industries (12%).
International Metalworking News for Asia (IMNA) asked Jeff Burnstein, president of Association for Advancing Automation (A3) about the surge in robot orders and the reason behind these numbers including demand for robotics and automation after pandemic.
IMNA: It is good to hear that robot orders from non-automotive went up, and 86% of that growth came from companies in the metals industry. What is the reason behind this growth? Does that mean coronavirus did not limit these companies success?
Burnstein: The growth is due to the fact that the pandemic accelerated trends that were underway already. Companies who had not invested in robotics and automation realised that they should do so now in order to remain globally competitive and be prepared for future pandemics. Robots help keep factories up and running, allow for social distancing, and can disinfect workplaces.
Robot sales have increased considerably as more and more companies in every industry recognise that robotics and automation can help them compete globally. While advances in robot technology, ease of use, and new applications remain key drivers in robot adoption, worker shortages in manufacturing, warehousing, and other industries are a significant factor in the current expansion of robot use that we are now seeing. COVID did not create the move toward automation, but certainly has accelerated trends that already were underway.
While robotic purchases from automotive manufacturers can be highly cyclical, the increase from non-automotive companies, especially in metals, life sciences, and food and consumer goods, shows a promising outlook for the growth of the robotics and automation industry overall.
IMNA: Can you mention what type of robots is on the rise?
Burnstein: All types of robots are on the rise: traditional industrial robots, collaborative robots, and mobile robots.
IMNA: You mentioned in the press release that you expect increasing demand for robotics and automation to continue after the pandemic has ended, what makes you certain that this will continue in the future?
Burnstein: Nobody is certain that it will continue on a quarter-to-quarter basis, but the long-term trends for automation are very strong. So many industries and companies are just now beginning to automate. Several countries like China, Japan, South Korea, and others are “all in” on robotics, providing incentives to automate. If this were a baseball game, automation would be in the early innings – there is a long way to go in penetrating new industries and markets.
We also expect that the increased use of automation will help companies be better prepared to face any future pandemics.
IMNA: What does this growth trend mean for designers and developers of robotics and automation?
Burnstein: We will see continued innovations in the form factors of robots, applications, systems, ease of use, remote diagnostics – it is a wide-open field for growth.
IMNA: With the pandemic now a sore point that is curbing growth for almost all industries, how does A3 help and support its members when it comes to challenges brought by this pandemic?
Burnstein: The pandemic kept people apart; the association stepped in to connect them again. Instead of live events, we held virtual shows and conferences that attracted tens of thousands of people from around the world looking for automation solutions. This was a critical element in helping our members navigate the pandemic.
IMNA: Can you give us an outlook for the future? What will the development of robotics and automation market as a whole will look like?
Burnstein: We will see continued growth of automation in industries like life sciences, food, consumer goods, pharmaceuticals and more. Companies involved in metalworking will also see expanded growth and applications. The integration of improved AI and machine vision technologies with robotics will create a plethora of new automation solutions. The future is very bright for automation!
While many robots are designed with specific applications in mind, 2020 demonstrated just how flexible many innovations could be. By applying automation technology and installing robots throughout the manufacturers production processes, industrial businesses enable their human employees to dedicate time to more intellectually arduous projects, improve quality, reduce risks associated with dangerous tasks, and lower overall operational costs.
Last year has revealed that many robotics applications have the potential to adapt quickly and to serve in different scenarios. As we move past the pandemic and return to usual life, various robotics innovations will likely be considered for a broad range of use going forward.
The Association for Advancing Automation (A3) is the global advocate for the benefits of automating. Members of A3 represent over 1,100 automation manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, research groups and consulting firms from throughout the world that drive automation forward.
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