North American manufacturing companies bought a total of 9,773 industrial robots, valued at approximately $516 million, in the first quarter of 2017. That means 32 percent more robots were bought this year than at the same time in 2016 — it’s the strongest first quarter on record for robots ordered by North American companies, according to the Robotic Industries Association. Last year, 7,406 robots were ordered by North American companies, valued at $402 million.
Between 2015 and 2016, the number of robots sold to North American companies jumped only 7 percent in the first quarter, Recode reports.
32 % more robots were sold in the first quarter of 2017 comparing to the first quarter of 2016
One of the main reasons explaining the significant jump from previous years is obviously the decreasing cost of robots and other patents, combined with the fact that the robot market provides an opportunity to lower transportation costs; companies can now move manufacturing operations closer to U.S. markets, as opposed to chasing cheap labor around the world. Robots are also getting cheaper and smaller. The dollar value of robots ordered dropped between 2015 and 2016, even though the number of robots ordered went up. Unit price dropped 3 percent from the first quarter of 2016 to the same time in 2017.
Adidas, for example, is opening a new plant in Atlanta this year, but that factory will be staffed in large part by robots. Only about 160 human workers are expected to be employed at the plant. But more robots means fewer jobs. For every new industrial robot introduced into the workforce between 1990 and 2007, six jobs were eliminated, a study published earlier this year from the National Economic Research Bureau found. The jobs of nearly 90% of garment and footwear workers in Cambodia and Vietnam are at risk from automated assembly lines according to a new report from the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Another analysis, from Ball State University, attributed roughly 13 percent of manufacturing job losses to trade and the rest 87 percent to enhanced productivity because of automation. Apparel making was hit hardest by trade, it said, and computer and electronics manufacturing were hit hardest by technological advances. There is now evidence that much more jobs have been lost due to automation than to trade globalization.
Robot sales, of course, are expected to increase worldwide. Annual shipments of industrial robots are set to see double-digit growth through 2025, according to projections from ABI Research. In less than 10 years, global shipments could hit one million units annually, meaning we should be prepared to endure the outcome of a major disruption massive unemployment could bring in both the East and the West, for which we still have no provision whatsoever.