North American companies snapped up a record number of 12,305 robots worth $585 million the first half of this year as they struggled to keep factories and warehouses humming in the face of an extremely tight labor market and soaring compensation costs.
The results of the 25% year-over year increase haven’t materialized yet, given the time needed to adjust to new machinery according to research from the Association for the Advancing Automation. Combined with a strong first quarter, the North American robotics market celebrated its best first half ever, the group said.
With nearly two open jobs for every unemployed worker, employers are bidding up wages: Total U.S. labor costs – covering wages and benefits – surged 5.1% year over year in the second quarter, the most since the Labor Department began tracking it in 2001.
Knapheide Manufacturing Co is among companies investing in new robots — including a new production line for flatbed truck bodies slated to go into its Quincy, Illinois, factory this year. The new line will use robots to feed steel parts through an automated welding process.
Mike Bovee, the engineer overseeing the installation, said the new robots should help ease a chronic shortage of welders. Knapheide currently recruits those workers from as far away as Texas.
“We’ll always need as many welders as we can find,” he said, but they can be redeployed to other parts of production at the 1,500-worker plant.