ANN ARBOR, MI-New orders for industrial robots jumped 28% through September 2003, according to figures released by Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry's trade group.

North American robotics suppliers received orders for 10,051 robots valued at $698.2 million from North American manufacturing companies in the first nine months of 2003. An additional 331 robots valued at $29.3 million were ordered by manufacturing companies from outside North America. The combined total of 10,382 robots valued at $727.5 million represents an increase of 28% in units and 15% in dollars over the same period in 2002.

"While it's too early to declare that the robotics industry is on the road to new record sales, we're very encouraged by the fact that nearly as many robots have been ordered through three quarters of 2003 as were ordered in the entire year of 2002," says Donald A. Vincent, executive vice president of RIA.

"It appears that manufacturing companies that have been postponing major purchases of capital equipment are starting to make new investments. However, it is clear that there is still a great deal of uncertainty about the strength of the U.S. economic recovery. Another downturn could put the brakes on the recovery in capital equipment spending, which could lengthen the time it takes for the robotics industry to surpass the record sales it posted in its peak years of 1999 and 2000," Vincent explains.

While automotive manufacturers and suppliers remain the largest customers for the robotics industry, markets such as fabricated metals, food and consumer goods, semiconductors and electronics, and plastics and rubber and life sciences continue to show strength.

Material handling continues to be the largest application area for robotics, followed by spot welding, arc welding, coating and dispensing, assembly and material removal.

RIA estimates that some 132,000 robots are currently installed in U.S. factories, placing the United States second to Japan in robotics use.