North American robot orders fell 30% last year


After two years of growth, orders for industrial robots fell by almost a third last year. According to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), 31,159 industrial robots were purchased by North American companies in 2023, compared to 44,196. This represents a 30% decline for this key market. This number is also down (although less) from 2021’s 39,708.

The fall is certainly a steep one worth examining. This is not a complete surprise, however. Last August, we cited a report from the industry group noting a 37% year-over-year decline for the second quarter of 2023. This was the second consecutive quarterly decline for the industry.

These numbers throw some cold water on what was considered a hot industry since at least the start of the pandemic. There is undoubtedly reason for concern among robotics manufacturers. But all of this must be caveated by the fact that 2021 and 2022 marked record sales for the industry. Some regression toward the mean was probably inevitable here.

But the story behind these numbers is much more complex than a slowdown in adoption following a pandemic-fueled automation frenzy. As strong as the category has seemed at times, it is not immune to the same macroeconomic headwinds as the rest of the tech world. In fact, in some ways it may be more tenuous. Industrial robots aren’t exactly a luxury item, but they are expensive purchases with high upfront costs, leading many to start considering the robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) leasing model.

Uncertain times are undoubtedly a major reason for caution. Manufacturing continues to be the main driver of automation, and as the economy has struggled in 2023, many people have postponed plans to buy new cars. The chip shortage also continued to hamper production in the first half. Auto manufacturing robots – which make up just over half of the total number – saw a 34% decline over the year.

Non-automotive robots did only slightly better last year, down 25%. According to A3, metal electronics manufacturing, food/consumer, medical, and plastics/rubber saw the greatest demand outside of automotive for the year.

A3 President Jeff Burnstein struck a hopeful note, saying, “Even though robot sales declined over the course of the year, 2023 ended with both an increase over the previous quarter and an almost equal number of sales from automotive and non-automotive companies. Both of these are promising signs that more industries are becoming more comfortable with automation in general. Although we expect to see orders from the automotive sector increase again, there is no doubt that orders from all non-automotive industries will increase as they recognize how robots can help them overcome their unique challenges.

There are certainly economic factors that determine potential sales in the future, including the hiring issues reported by many industries. But the process of adopting automation for the first time is fraught with challenges, and in some cases the promise of new robotic technologies is not ripe enough for meaningful, large-scale adoption.

Robots, on the other hand, are commonplace in car manufacturing, which is decades ahead of the rest of the industry. Taking into account the slowdown in electric vehicle purchases had a significant impact on the overall figures.


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