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The robots are marching in

Robot sales reached record levels in 1st quarter as firms grapple with worker shortages

As worker shortages persist, industries across the board are turning to robots to fill gaps, with record orders in the first quarter. (Photo: Shutterstock)

As labor shortages continue to hamper business operations, robot sales are soaring. According to data from the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), automation providers sold a record 11,595 robots in the first quarter of this year, at a total value of $646 million.

“Every industry, including agriculture, construction, retail and hospitality, is now looking at how they can take advantage of robotics to make their companies more successful,” said Alex Shikany, A3’s vice president of membership and business intelligence. “These companies recognize what we at A3 have long believed, that robots can not only take over the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs that are so hard to fill, but they can save and create jobs as automation helps them grow their business.”

While the American economy has remained strong, worker shortages are a familiar story for many industries. In transportation and logistics, trucking continues to gain workers, adding 13,000 in April. Warehouse-specific employment was up 16,800 jobs in April and is up 171,000 over a year ago. Still, it has not been enough to keep up with the needs of businesses.

Worker shortage

A Bureau of Labor Statistics report in November found there were 600,000 open warehousing and transportation jobs. An Instawork survey released in May found that 73% of warehouse operators can’t find enough workers.

A3’s Q1 numbers represent a 7% increase in volume and 25% increase in sales value over Q4 2021, which was the previous record quarter. The numbers are up 28% in volume and 43% in dollar figures over Q1 2021.

The increase was driven by nonautomotive robotics, with those used in the metals industry up 40% year-over-year, plastics and rubber up 29%, semiconductors and electronics/photonics up 23%, food and consumer goods up 21%, and life sciences/pharma/biomed up 14%. All other industries saw a 56% rise in robotics orders.

“As robots continually become easier to use and more affordable, we expect to see adoption continue to rise in every industry, and at companies of all sizes,” said Jeff Burnstein, president of A3. “There are hundreds of thousands of companies in North America who have yet to install even one robot. Many of those companies will visit Automate in Detroit next month looking for the latest solutions that will help them become stronger global competitors.”

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]