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Editorials

Plastics Processors Also Like Industrial Robots

Axium Robotics & Automation ULC

Industrial robots sales and orders are on an upward trend since the last recession. What is the situation in the plastics industry?

The Robotics Industry Association (RIA) recently announced that 2014 was a record year for industrial robot orders, with an increase of 28% from 2013. The world statistics are not yet available from the International Federation for Robotics (IFR) but an overall growth of 15% is expected.

The orders of industrial robots for the plastics industry also had a nice growth in 2014 from 2013 with an increase of 25% according to the RIA. But this increase is barely sufficient to reach the levels obtained just before the recession, in 2006 and 2007.

World robot sales

As can be seen in the graph above, the growth rate of industrial robots for the Plastics & Rubber industry is significant (roughly 20% average since 2009) but not as high as the whole market (around 30%). The share of industrial robots for the Plastics & Rubber industry remained at around 7% since 2009, but far from the levels achieved in 2006 and 2007, where the industry’s share was around 13% as shown in the following graph. Can we expect that the Plastics and Rubber industry to regain this previous level?

Plastics & rubber share of world robot sales

Well, according to the latest survey conducted by Gardner Business Media on the capital spending in 2015 for U.S. plastics producers, the investments in primary and auxiliary plastics processing equipment should increase by 14% from 2014, reaching a new record of $3.472 billion. This is great, but this increase is less than the one observed from 2013 to 2014 (20%).

Processing equipment investments

If we take a closer look at the projected spending by equipment type, primary processing equipment should have an increase of 28%, where approximately two thirds of this amount is dedicated to injection molding machines. Extrusion equipment is also expected to have a nice growth (+40%) but blow molding and thermoforming will remain relatively flat.

For the auxiliary equipment category, with a predicted overall increase of 10% for 2015, the robot category is expected to jump by 16% from 2014. This rate is better than the 12% expected growth for the industrial robots overall market according to the IFR.

We can therefore be optimistic that this is a first step for the plastics industry to regain its position in industrial robotics investments, slowly but surely, helping manufacturers to improve productivity in tasks like handling, assembly, etc.

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