Inflation and the tight labor market are becoming a win-win for robots.
Orders for workplace robots in the United States surged 40% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2022 as companies are leveraging automation to combat ongoing labor shortages and cut costs as inflation continues to hover near a 40-year-high.
According to data from the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), around 9,000 robots collectively worth approximately $544 million were sold in the United States during the first quarter, compared to more than 6,400 robots collectively worth approximately $346 million sold during the same period a year ago.
Across North America, over 11,500 robots collectively worth approximately $646 million were sold in the three-month period from January through March, the most ever purchased in a single quarter. The North America figures represent growth of 28% and 43% respectively over the first quarter of 2021 and 7% and 25% respectively over the fourth quarter of 2021, the previous best quarter.
Boston Dymanics, one of the leaders in automation, frequently showcases the work they've been doing with "Spot."
A3 represents nearly 1,100 automation manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, academic institutions, research groups and consulting firms across the globe.
The first quarter of 2022 marked the seventh out of the last nine quarters where non-automotive customers ordered more robots than automotive customers.
Non-automotive customers across North America ordered a total of 6,122 units during the quarter, compared to the 5,476 units ordered by automotive-related customers. Unit sales to automotive original equipment manufacturers grew 15% year-over-year while orders from automotive component companies climbed 22% year-over-year.
Robot orders surged 40% year-over-year in the metals industry, climbed 29% year-over-year in the plastics and rubber industry, jumped 23% year-over-year in the semiconductor, electronics and photonics industry, rose 21% year-over-year in the food and consumer goods industry and increased 14% in the life sciences, pharma, and biomedicine industry. Meanwhile, all other industries saw robot order growth of 56% year-over-year.
"Companies of all sizes, and increasingly small and medium-sized companies, are deploying robotics and automation because it’s more feasible than ever before," A3 vice president of membership and business intelligence Alex Shikany told FOX Business. "There are a variety of funding models, new hardware and software, and more user-friendly experiences for customers to enjoy."
The data comes as there are currently 11.4 million job openings in the United States. The Labor Department reported that 4.4 million Americans, or about 2.9% of the workforce, quit their jobs in April. During the month, the U.S. economy added a stronger-than-expected 428,000 nonfarm jobs.
"The major trend we are hearing about relative to labor in automation right now is that companies can’t find people," Shikany added. "So many of our members are hiring right now but can’t fill the positions due to lack of qualified candidates."
Inflation has also taken a bite out of workers' wage gains, with real average hourly earnings falling 2.6% on an annual basis in April.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that inflation will remain elevated in the near-term, with the consumer price index expected to hit 4.7% for the entirety of 2022. While that is down slightly from the 6.7% recorded in 2021 — the highest level in four decades — it's still significantly higher than the Federal Reserve wants. Inflation is not expected to fall to the Fed's preferred level of 2% until 2024, according to the CBO.
In its Future of Jobs Report published in October 2020, the World Economic Forum estimated that the time spent on current tasks at work by humans and machines will be equal by 2025. WEF predicts that 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labor between humans and machines by 2025, while 97 million new jobs may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labor between humans, machines and algorithms.
Fox Business' Megan Henney contributed to this report