North American companies rush to add robots as demand surges

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Nov 11 (Businesshala) – Companies in North America added a record number of robots in the first nine months of this year as they raced to speed up assembly lines and struggled to add human workers.

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Factories and other industrial users ordered 29,000 robots, up 37% from the same period last year, valued at $1.48 billion, according to data compiled by industry group Association for Advancing Automation. It surpassed the previous peak set in the same time period in 2017, before economies hit by the global pandemic.

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The rush to add robots is part of a bigger investment boom as companies seek to keep up with strong demand, which in some cases has contributed to shortages of key goods. At the same time, many firms have struggled to bring back workers displaced by the pandemic and see robots as an alternative to adding human muscles to their assembly lines.

“Businesses just can’t find the people they need — so they’re rushing to automate,” said Jeff Bernstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation. Known as A3.

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Robots also continue to push into more corners of the economy. Auto companies have long bought most industrial robots. But in 2020, combined sales from other types of businesses overtook the auto sector for the first time – and that trend continued this year. According to A3, in the first nine months of the year, auto-related orders for robots increased 20% to 12,544 units, while orders from non-automotive companies rose 53% to 16,355.

“It’s not that the automotive is slowing down — the auto is up,” Bernstein said. But other sectors – from metals to food manufacturers – are growing even faster.

John Newman’s company is one of them. Athena Manufacturing, which manufactures metals for other manufacturers in Austin, Texas, now has seven robots, four of which are installed this year. It bought its first machine in 2016. Neumann said the robots have helped Athena respond to a surge in demand, including a 50% increase in orders for parts used by semiconductor device makers.

He said the machines allowed Athena to run round the clock for the first time last year. The company employs 250, but to find workers to fill unpopular overnight shifts, they must have struggled.

Reporting by Timothy Apple in New York Editing by Matthew Lewis

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