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Census Bureau Issues Robot Count

August 28, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ American industry produced 5,535 robots last year, the Census Bureau said Wednesday in its first-ever survey of mechanical men.

Best known for its counts of the American people every decade, the Census Bureau also studies many other things, including business and industry. It now has added robots to its series of Current Industrial Reports.

While movies have given robots the popular image of clanking, humanoid monsters, most are basic industrial machines used to speed production and free humans from dangerous or repetitive jobs.

In the past, robots counted in the Census of Industry - conducted every five years - have been classified according to end use, such as welding machines, parts assemblers, paint sprayers and so forth, Ken McBeth of the Census Bureau’s Industry Division explained.

But that made it hard to measure robot production and use and complicated the business of tracking imports and exports of robots, prompting the Robotics Industries Association to ask for the separate count, McBeth said.

Association spokesman Jeff Burnstein said the group’s current aim is to have a new Standard Industrial Classification code issued for robots, giving them a separate listing on government censuses and other collections of statistics.

That would make it easier to count the growing number of imported robots, Burnstein said in a telephone interview from his Dearborn, Mich., office.

But to obtain such a classification an industry must show that it is growing and becoming an important factor, which is why the new study was launched, McBeth said.

The Census report found 75 companies were engaged in production of robots last year, with shipments of 5,535 machines valued at $357.7 million.

Burnstein said that is close to figures his association has collected. The group estimated U.S. robot production at 5,136 units last year, with a value of $332.5 million.

If current growth trends continue, the U.S. robotics industry could have production of $1 billion by 1988, McBeth and Burnstein agreed, making it more than eligible for a separate industrial classification.

The next government Census of Industry is scheduled for 1987.

The Census Bureau’s study measured only production, and did not seek to count the number of robots currently in use in the United States. Burnstein estimated that total at between 16,000 and 17,000.

According to the Census report, welding, soldering and brazing jobs were the most common industrial functions for robots produced last year, accounting for 1,474 of the devices shipped. Second was the broad classification of educational, hobby and experimental robots, which totaled 1,304.

Other major categories of use for the 1984 production included materials handling, 790; product assembly, 613; spraying, painting and glueing, 450, and machine tool loading, 202.

For the record, the Census Bureau defines a robot as a ″reprogrammable multi-functional manipulator designed to move material, parts, tools or specialized devices through variable programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks.″

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