North American companies are relying on robots more than ever before to meet the demands of their factories and warehouses. With an 11% increase in robot orders from the previous year, hitting a record high of 44,100 machines valued at $2.38 billion, companies in the United States, Canada, and Mexico are turning to automation as a solution to the labor shortage. The majority of these robots will be used for material handling tasks, and as we continue to see new developments in the industry, it’s important to take a closer look at the impact of automation on the workforce.
North American companies are increasingly turning to automation to combat the tightest labor market in decades. Last year saw a record number of robots brought on board, with many of them earmarked for the new electric vehicle and battery factories under construction. Despite the initial surge in demand, the robot orders appeared to have slowed down near the end of the year, causing some concern for the strength of 2023.
New Record: Over 44,100 Robots Ordered
According to data from the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), North American companies ordered just over 44,100 robots in 2022, an 11% increase from the previous year and a new record in terms of the number of robots purchased. The total value of these machines was $2.38 billion, marking an 18% increase from the previous year.
The “labor shortage doesn’t seem to be letting up,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of A3. Many companies, facing the lowest U.S. unemployment rate since 1969, are turning to automation as a solution to the labor shortage. However, Burnstein noted that there was a noticeable slowdown in orders towards the end of the year, raising questions about the future of 2023.
Shifting Consumer Behaviors and Supply Chain Issues
The slowdown in orders could be attributed to a shift away from pandemic-era consumer behavior and supply chain problems. Burnstein stated that companies like Amazon have put a pause on building new warehouses, which could have led to delays or cancellations of automation purchases. In addition, some customers may have placed extra orders during the COVID-19 pandemic just to ensure they would receive what they needed.
Automotive Industry Leads the Way in Automation
More than half of the orders last year came from the automotive industry and its suppliers, a group that has long been at the forefront of automation in U.S. factories. The new plants for electric vehicles, batteries, and battery recycling are expected to cost $160 billion, according to Atlas Public Policy, a U.S.-based research group working with automakers and environmental groups.
Material Handling and Auditor Jobs: The Future of Automation
The majority of the robots ordered last year will be used for material handling, a broad category that encompasses all types of movement and handling of goods within factories and warehouses. For example, closure systems International Inc’s plant in Crawfordsville, Indiana recently automated the process of packing and sealing boxes at the end of the assembly line.
Next up are “auditor” jobs, which involve constant checking of specifications to ensure that the machines are producing to the correct standards. Brad Bennett, the company’s senior vice president of global operations, stated that small robots will soon be installed to do the inspection work, allowing workers to move on to other tasks. This change will help avoid the issues faced during the pandemic when the company was running at a 30% capacity due to the inability to find workers.