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The U.S., Canada and Mexico are buying more job-killing robots than ever before

May 10,2017 08:17

Robots are getting cheaper and smaller and, as a result, sales have grown significantly over the past year, particularly in North America, as more companies move manufacturing operations closer to U.S. markets. North American manufacturing companies ...and more »


Robots are getting cheaper and smaller and, as a result, sales have grown significantly over the past year, particularly in North America, as more companies move manufacturing operations closer to U.S. markets.
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 were ordered by North American companies, valued at $402 million.
It’s also a significant jump from the previous year. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of robots sold to North American companies jumped only 7 percent in the first quarter.

Manufacturing companies are more often turning to robots to increase productivity, as opposed to chasing cheap labor around the world. And that’s causing some operations to stay in the U.S. or move production facilities closer to major markets.
Take that Carrier furnace manufacturing plant that Trump claimed he helped court to stay in the U.S. last year. That decision was driven in part by the company’s decision to save money on labor by automating the plant. 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.
Robots are also getting cheaper and smaller. This is why the dollar value of robots ordered dropped between 2015 and 2016, despite the fact that the number of robots ordered went up. Unit price dropped 3 percent from the first quarter of 2016 to the same time in 2017.
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.

And robot sales 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.

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