Robot news  came infrequently a few years ago. Then there came the collaborative robots (cobots) and a surge in end effector innovation. Business in our market sector was good in 2021, and robots were no exception. I have several pieces of robot news accumulated over the past couple of weeks. The Association for Advancing Automation (A3) reports increased sales in dollars and units. And Danish cobot manufacturer Universal Robots also reported substantial increases. Meanwhile I spoke to the product manager from Epson robots who explained its two new low end entrants into the market.

Robot Revenues

Propelled by a surge in non-automotive sectors, the number of robots sold in North America set a new record in 2021, with 39,708 units sold at a value of $2 billion, a 14% increase over the previous high in 2017.

According to new industry statistics released by the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the number of robots sold in 2021 rose 28% over 2020. Record robot sales in the fourth quarter of the year—up 9% over Q4 2020—demonstrated the strong momentum already realized through the previous nine months as more industries look to automation to increase productivity and alleviate ongoing labor shortages.

“More industries recognized that robotics could help reverse productivity declines and fill repetitive jobs human workers don’t want. It is no longer a choice whether to deploy robots and automation,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of A3. “It’s now an absolute imperative. As we’ve long believed—and users continue to confirm—robots help companies compete, ultimately creating more jobs to handle their growth.”

Non-automotive orders now represent 58% of the North American total. Unit sales to non-automotive industries saw the following increases in 2021 over 2020:

  • Metals: up 91% over 2020
  • Food and Consumer Goods:  up 29%  
  • Semiconductors and Electronics/Photonics: up 2%  
  • Plastics and Rubber: up 4%  
  • Life Sciences/Pharma/Biomed: up 4%  
  • All Other Industries:  up 65%  

“Improvements in technology, new financing models and simpler applications continue to be positive trend lines leading into 2022, in particular helping small companies automate and join the global stage,” Burnstein added.

“Hiring technicians and machine operators in the Bay Area is always difficult, and it became even harder during the pandemic,” said Joe Montano, president and CEO of Delphon, a customer of A3 member Rapid Robotics. “Meanwhile, a new generation of rentable robots had made the costs feasible for facilities like ours to make a measured entry into automation. By hiring robots to operate machines for pad printing and component cleaning, we were able to redeploy eight operators to other jobs and see a $70,000 return on investment in less than a year.”

Universal Robots Reports Record Annual Revenue of over $300M

Universal Robots, the Danish producer of collaborative robots, has reported record annual revenue of USD 311M, 41% up on 2020 and 23% up on pre-pandemic results in 2019.

The company’s President, Kim Povlsen said: “Universal Robots has had a great year. In a company like ours, which manufactures sophisticated hardware to high quality standards, this sort of growth requires tremendous commitment from all involved. Our production team in Denmark has broken internal records for the number of cobots built, producing 400 cobots in a single week in Q4. Our supply chain experts have worked hard to keep our business running smoothly despite global supply challenges.”

Quarter 4 revenue also broke records, up 22% on Q4 2020 and 28% up on Q4 2019. Kim Povlsen continued: “Our growth is driven by several long-term trends, including workforce shortages and growing awareness of the contribution automation can make to productivity. As well as reaching new consumers, we see repeat business from manufacturers extending their use of cobots after seeing the impact of the technology.”

The company expects strong growth to continue in 2022, as Kim Povlsen explained: “Demand for collaborative robots is set to grow and our unique ecosystem is growing with it. Working with more than 1,000 independent companies – including component, kit and application manufacturers, certified integrators and distributors – collaborative innovation is what sets our growth journey apart.”

Epson Updates T-Series All-in-One SCARA Robots Lineup 

The new T3-B and T6-B All-in-One SCARA robots offer high-quality and high-performance at an exceptional value to simplify both complex and simple automation applications such as packaging, pick and place, dispensing, and inspection. These all-in-one industrial robots include the same intuitive software, powerful features and reliability found in Epson’s high-end robots, while keeping total cost of ownership low in industries spanning automotive, medical development, lab automation, consumer electronics, electronic components, and industrial.

“Ease of use in robotics is more important than ever and the new T-B Series SCARA models bring exceptional value without compromise to both new entrants and advanced manufacturers,” said Scott Marsic, group product manager, Epson Robots. “Epson strives to simplify automation for all users and the new T3-B and T6-B are designed to provide uncomplicated solutions with productive outcomes. Paired with the no-code Epson RC+® Express software, users can add the robots to automation systems in no time.”

Epson’s new SCARA robots tout an All-in-One, space-saving design that includes a built-in controller housed in the robot’s base with power for end-of-arm tooling. The T3-B and T6-B are compatible with Epson’s suite of integrated options including vision guidance, IntelliFlex™ parts feeding, teach pendants, and field bus master and slave interface boards. Additional updates include an improved form factor design and updated motion control for smoother, faster cycle times.

Designed for the ultimate ease of use, the T3-B and T6-B come equipped with the feature-packed Epson RC+ and no-code Epson RC+ Express industrial automation development software. Ideal for novice and advanced users, Epson RC+ is an easy-to-learn programming language that offers a powerful set of tools to redefine automation efficiency. An intuitive, visual-based teaching environment, Epson RC+ Express is designed for users with little-to-no programming experience to easily and efficiently develop simple, powerful robotic programs.

Epson Product Manager, Aaron Donlon, emphasized “simplified automation” pointing to lowered total cost of integration important due to high labor costs along with availability and the no-code touchscreen program. The system also has available integrated vision and parts feeding.

The T3-B ($7,495) and the T6-B ($9,495) All-in-One SCARA robots will be available in mid-March through Epson Robots channel of distributor partners.

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