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Record Automate 2024 reflects vibrant and innovative robotics and automation sector

Industrial Automation

June 2024

Tim Dawson

Vice President of Research - Industrial Automation

Tim is the Vice President of Research for IA’s Industrial Automation team. He uses his 20+ year experience to develop best-in-class research for the manufacturing sector and is a frequent speaker on all things research at conferences and industry trade shows across the country.

This year’s Automate 2024 expo in Chicago was a fantastic show, with almost 43,000 visitors and lots of new technologies on display. As market intelligence partner for event host The Association for Advanced Automation (A3), we presented in the Automate Theatre in collaboration with A3 on automation and the state of the industry and the expo was a great place to get a feel for current trends and industry sentiment.

Automate 2024 was a record-breaking show, with registrations up by 40% on last year and exhibitors up 13% compared with 2023, as demand for automation, robotics and AI solutions continues to grow. Interact Analysis analysts carried out a survey of Automate 2024 attendees and held hundreds of conversations across the four days. My reflections on the show and the survey responses are outlined below.

Image: taken at Automate 2024.

AI, robotics and machine vision are key trends for 2024

AI featured heavily at Automate 2024, as it has done throughout this trade show season, with a lot of activity around generative AI and companies employing it as a programming co-pilot. Furthermore, we saw AI increasingly being deployed to ease the burden of labor shortages and make complex processes easier. For example, using AI in vision and robotics to help program otherwise complicated systems, with most machine vision vendors touting AI in some form.

However, with so many different facets to AI and the technology still very much in its infancy, the challenge is how to use it to generate the features that customers want and need. With recruiting talent in this field proving expensive, our feeling is that companies now need to look at ways to monetize AI. The potential is there for it to become a customer expectation rather than a revenue stream and so the smartest way of using it may well be as an invisible tool to make things happen.

In terms of more tangible technologies, robotics and machine vision featured strongly at Automate 2024, including industrial and fixed robotics and a lot of bin-picking solutions. Robotic bin-picking solutions are moving from the logistics space into manufacturing applications, with most showing a convergence of robotics and machine vision, often using 3D cameras.

There was also a heavy AMR presence at Automate 2024, although not quite in the volumes seen at Modex 2024. It is clear there is a shift in conveyance technology from fixed to more flexible mobile solutions, with mobile robots increasingly in demand for material transport around manufacturing facilities. This move from conveyors to AGVs and AMRs is leading to less rigid automation lines and, with greater opportunities in manufacturing than logistics for mobile conveying, this bodes well for the industry. If there is a strong shift towards AGVs and AMRs, we will see this pull through to components vendors throughout the value chain.

Optimism among Automate 2024 participants, despite challenging environment

We carried out a survey at Automate 2024, involving representatives from industries including industrial machinery, vision, electronics, robotics, and automation. Participants included marketing and sales executives, company owners, directors and CEOs. Companies ranged from an $8 billion industrial automation giant to system integrators and robotics start-ups.

Based on our discussions with show attendees, it’s clear that, while many are finding conditions in 2024 tough, the outlook is expected to improve in 2025. This sentiment is in line with our own projections in our global Manufacturing Industry Output Tracker (MIO), which forecasts a “strong-ish” recovery for the manufacturing sector next year.

Predictions for revenue growth among respondents tended towards flat or single digit growth in 2024, with few predicting a contraction. For example, one OEM said that, although equipment sales were sluggish, they were receiving maintenance and support business, which was helping them to maintain their revenues.

Some companies, particularly those in industries such as machine inspection and vision, and robotics, made double-digit predictions. This could well be because, although some core sectors in manufacturing are experiencing a decline in 2024, there are other industries (such as semiconductors and electronics) that already experienced a softer (or negative) year in 2023, hence are expecting to see a small recovery in 2024, which is helping to offset the declines elsewhere.

Asked about what is fueling revenue growth for their businesses, labor and skill shortages and the shift towards increasing digitalization cropped-up repeatedly in conversation. Specific references were made towards use of automation in areas such as palletizing and tugging, reflecting the growing automation of manual tasks. As one respondent explained, there is a “continued need to automate due to labor shortage” in manufacturing.

Final Thoughts

Automate 2024 gave us a lot to reflect on and there was a noticeable move into the manufacturing space for solutions such as 3D vision, bin-picking and mobile conveyance. AI is much talked about, although still very much in development and yet to realize its full potential in the industrial sphere. Vendors are currently struggling to find ways to monetize it properly and we expect it to become a feature of products that make them easier to use, whether this is in terms of progamming, commissioning or operating.

Automation is clearly continuing to help the manufacturing industry address severe skills and labor shortages and the challenges associated with them, as companies seek to do more with fewer and less-skilled employees, and make difficult or mundane tasks easier to carry out.

This year’s expo was certainly busier than previous years and there was a real buzz and positivity within the show, despite the challenging macroeconomic environment. The stage is set for the start of a manufacturing recovery in 2025 and a highly successful Automate next year.

Members of A3 will be able to view the full results of our sentiment survey in June, along with the A3 Industrial Automation Product Tracker, placing them in a strong position to make the most of the opportunities available.

To find out more about Interact Analysis’ research and market intelligence, get in touch with Tim Dawson.

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