In a First, most North American robots last year didn't go to automotive plants.

New York : For the time last year most of the robots ordered by companies in North America weren't destined for automotive factories.

The shift is part of a long term trend of automation spreading into more corners of the economy which was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Online retailers have scrambled to expand capacity as more people buy goods online, while food and other types of factories have seen automation as a tool to keep lines running and workers safely separated.

Shipments of robots rose to 31,044 in 2020, a 3.5% increase over the prior year, with 52% going to plants that make such things as consumer goods and pharmaceuticals, according to data compiled by industry group the Association for Advancing Automation.

The orders were valued at $1.57 billion in total.

Orders by life sciences, pharmaceuticals and biomedical companies rose 69% last year, the group reported, while demand from food and consumer goods companies grew by 56%.

''There's definitely been an upturn in particular areas because of the pandemic.,'' said Alex Shikany, the group's vice president of membership and business intelligence. ''The value proposition of automation is always efficiency, but with a pandemic it's also a way to space workers out and to run factories 24 hours a day without disruption.''

The robot industry, like most manufacturers, was hit hard during the pandemic as global supply chains ground to a halt and businesses closed. But businesses snapped back later in the year.

Robot shipments in the fourth quarter were the second highest in history, up nearly 64% from the year-ago period, the report said. [Reuters].


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