The declining fortunes of the U.S. automotive industry have had a direct impact on the robotics market. The latest data from the industry trade group Robotic Industries Association (RIA) saw robotic sales decline 30% in unit volume and 43% in dollar volume the first nine months of 2009.

Robot sales to automotive manufacturers fell 29% in unit volume and 44% in dollar volume through September, compared with 2008. Jeff Burnstein, RIA president, noted that while automotive customers traditionally account for 60% of new robot orders in North America, they accounted for only 54% of orders through September.

The study also noted that orders from non-automotive customers fell 32% in unit volume and 41% in dollar volume through September. But not all the news is bad. Tammy Mulcahy, chairperson of RIA’s Statistics Committee, said, "Orders from life science customers rose 14%, while orders from food and consumer goods customer rose 12%. While these are relatively small markets in North America at this time, they are two that hold strong growth potential and we’re glad to see them growing even during this unprecedented downtime for robotics and other capital equipment purchases."

NASA Tech Briefs has been covering emerging robotic applications in markets such as biomedical and food processing in its Motion Control Technology   supplement, and will continue to do so in coming months.