(Reuters) – For the to start with time very last yr, most of the robots requested by firms in North The usa weren’t destined for automotive factories.

FILE Photograph: A meals supply robotic, designed by Starship Technologies and element of the University of Wisconsin Housing Eating & Culinary Services’ food stuff shipping and delivery plan, is viewed on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as the coronavirus ailment (COVID-19) outbreak proceeds in Madison, Wisconsin, U.S., Oct 19, 2020. The robots have a 4-mile shipping and delivery radius and can carry up to 20 lbs of foodstuff. REUTERS/Bing Guan

The shift is portion of a prolonged-time period pattern of automation spreading into extra corners of the financial state which was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Online retailers have scrambled to broaden potential as a lot more individuals obtain items on the net, even though foods and other sorts of factories have viewed automation as a resource to continue to keep lines operating and employees safely and securely separated.

Shipments of robots rose to 31,044 in 2020, a 3.5% boost around the prior 12 months, with 52% likely to plants that make issues this kind of as purchaser items and pharmaceuticals, according to data compiled by industry group the Association for Advancing Automation.

The orders had been valued at $1.57 billion in overall.

Orders by existence sciences, pharmaceutical and biomedical businesses rose 69% very last 12 months, the group reported, when desire from food stuff and customer goods businesses grew by 56%.

“There’s surely been an upturn in individual areas because of the pandemic,” claimed Alex Shikany, the group’s vice president of membership and enterprise intelligence. “The price proposition of automation is normally effectiveness, but with a pandemic it’s also a way to room staff out and to operate factories 24 hrs a day with out disruptions.”

The robotic market, like most brands, was hit really hard during the pandemic as world-wide supply chains floor to a halt and corporations closed. But organization snapped again afterwards in the year. Robot shipments in the fourth quarter have been the second maximum in history, up almost 64% from the 12 months-ago period, the report claimed.

The automobile marketplace, a combine of assembly crops and components suppliers, has lengthy dominated the industry for robots, even though the stage of need can fluctuate relying on how lots of automakers are retooling for new products. Automotive accounted for two-thirds of robotic shipments in 2017.

Procter & Gamble Co. is between the non-automotive firms employing more automation in its factories and warehouses.

Mark Lewandowski, the company’s director of robotics innovation, claimed that a 10 years ago, there was less equipment specially built for factories that produced issues like food stuff or cleaning soap.

“Automotive was the massive gorilla in the home,” he said, but that is changed. Over the earlier calendar year, for instance, P&G was ready to go rapidly in response to the pandemic to put in extra robots in facilities that bundle jointly goods into exclusive packaging.

“Traditionally that was carried out manually,” he reported, mainly because the equipment that could have automated it had been highly-priced and lacked the overall flexibility wanted to continually swap concerning packaging distinct mixtures of items. But with new urgency to separate personnel to keep them protected and the availability to less expensive and additional flexible machines, it was doable, he reported.

Reporting by Timothy Aeppel modifying by Richard Pullin and Dan Burns