Often when we write about the growth in food robotics, it’s based on anecdotal data. For example, over the past year robot startups have told us that thanks to COVID-19, they’ve seen a surge in demand.
Now, thanks to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), we have some hard numbers to reaffirm what we’ve already been reporting. The A3 announced yesterday that for the first time last year, orders of robots for non-automotive purposes surpassed automotive robot orders. According to the press announcement, sales of robotic units in North America in 2020 were up 3.5 percent over sales in 2019. North American companies ordered 31,044 robotic units at a value of $1.572 billion last year.
For our specific purposes here at The Spoon, the A3 said that orders for food and consumer goods robots grew by 56 percent in 2020. And not only were more robots being ordered for the food sector, they were being used for higher-level tasks. Mark Joppru, Vice President, Consumer Segment & Service Robotics, US ABB Robotics and Machine Automation, said in the A3 press release:
In food applications, for example, where robots were traditionally used to automate simpler processes like case loading, they are increasingly being commissioned for higher value processes, like directly preparing food, resulting in improvements to food safety and hygiene. While these trends have existed for several years, COVID has changed perceptions and priorities for customers, accelerating the adoption of robotic automation.
This echoes what we’ve been hearing from food robot startups throughout the pandemic. Cleanliness and hygiene are the new priorities for the companies buying food robots. Robots provide a contactless way of preparing, ordering and delivering food, create more social distance in kitchens and can help alleviate staffing issues.
Just as important, robots are getting more sophisticated and, as Joppru points out, able to complete higher value tasks. Flippy is working the fryers at White Castle. Woowa Brothers delivery bots are integrating with elevator and security systems to increase navigation within buildings. And robot kiosks like RoboEatz can prepare 1,000 meals before needing a human to refill the ingredients.
Given the constant stream of robot news we’re been writing, it’s not too hard to imagine that this time next year, we’ll be writing about record growth for the industry in 2021.