Thanks to the advent of artificial intelligence, this tech is finally able to do what the world’s been wanting it to do all along.
This year hasn’t been a particularly great one for the industrial robotics market. After four consecutive years of growth, market researcher Interact Analysis says worldwide warehouse automation revenue will end 2023 down slightly from 2022’s levels. As the firm’s research manager Rueben Scruen explains, “The rise and fall of warehouse construction [stemming from pandemic-prompted investment in e-commerce] has led to a corresponding increase and decrease of end-to-end warehouse automation solutions.” The robotics market may see a slow start to 2024 as well, held back by high interest rates and economic uncertainty.
Before 2024 comes to a close, however, the world may be seeing the convergence of several factors all working in favor of automation technologies. Now paired with the power of artificial intelligence (AI), manufacturers and retailers will likely clamor for the efficiency that such solutions can now offer.
The International Federation of Robotics believes the total number of worldwide robotic installations will grow by an average of 7% per year through 2026, jibing with Interact Analysis’ market growth forecast of less than $35 billion in 2023 to more than $50 billion in 2027. An enterprising automation company may even be able to capture more than its fair share of that growth.
With that as the backdrop, here’s a closer look at three robotics stocks to consider stepping into before 2024 gets here. The market will likely start realizing the growth that awaits before we get too deep into the coming year.
It’s the biggest pure-play in the business largely because it was the first major name to be in the business — before terms like “automation” and “robotics” became what we understand them to be today. The thing is, its sheer size and pedigree continue to help Rockwell Automation (ROK -1.61%) grow its business.
If your car rolls on Cooper tires, if you own a Stanley Black & Decker power tool, or if you use Brawny paper towels made by paper giant Georgia-Pacific, then you’re already benefiting from the dozens of different kinds of solutions Rockwell Automation brings to thousands of manufacturing processes. The company sold more than $2.5 billion worth of automation solutions during its fiscal fourth quarter ending in September, in fact, defying the industry’s headwind by improving on last year’s comparison to the tune of 20%. Adjusted per-share earnings of $3.64 were also up 20% year over year, capping off a year marked by comparable top- and bottom-line growth rates.
The fiscal year now underway won’t be as impressive. The company believes its sales and profits will more or less mirror last year’s numbers. Analysts are calling for slight revenue and earnings growth next year (although only slight), with the same growth cadence in the cards for several years after that.
This collective outlook, however, arguably doesn’t fully reflect Rockwell’s growth potential now that it’s adding a game-changing dimension to its automation solutions: AI. October’s acquisition of Clearpath Robotics and its OTTO Motors brand of autonomous robots is just a taste of the bigger paradigm shift this company is pushing itself to make. In September it unveiled an AI-powered asset risk predictor platform that helps manufacturers figure out when a piece of automation equipment is about to break.
This sliver of the automation market is still relatively young. But it shouldn’t take long for most companies to recognize AI-driven automation solutions like these more than pay for themselves in pretty short order.
Rockwell may be the original big name in industrial automation, yet it’s only now embracing the benefits of artificial intelligence. Symbotic (SYM -2.87%) is built from the ground up to meld AI with robotics. And, it’s a specialist.
Any process that requires physical movement can be automated. Processes like stocking a warehouse with a variety of goods and picking a list of items off of a warehouse shelf to fulfill an online order, however, can be tricky. It’s historically required a human being to make a decision or selection based on what that person sees. Of course, any process that requires human involvement is subject to errors and fatigue.
This company manufactures a variety of robots specifically designed to meet retailers’ warehousing needs. Its autonomous, mobile robotic arms can not only pick and pack an entire pallet’s worth of customer orders, but can unpack and shelve a pallet of mixed merchandise too. These automation solutions simply didn’t exist just a few years back. And once they became available, it didn’t take Walmart, Target, and Albertsons long to join its roster of customers.
And yet, this game-changing tech’s growth is just getting started. As EY’s assessment of robotics’ growth in the coming year explains:
… because of high capex and retraining costs, the efficiencies gained by automation through robotics have been out of reach for all but the largest companies. That will still be the case for some SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) but may not be for long. The average price of an industrial robot has halved over the past decade, to about US$23,000 in 2022 from US$47,000 in 2011, according to Ark Invest, which predicts that costs will fall a further 50% to 60% by 2025.
And Symbotic’s certainly got the numbers to confirm it’s the go-to name in this sliver of the autonomous warehouse robotics space. The top line of nearly $1.2 billion for the fiscal year ending in September of this year was up nearly 100% from fiscal 2022’s sales.
Last but not least, add UiPath (PATH -2.30%) to your list of tickers perfectly positioned to benefit from the impending rebound in automation spending.
It’s actually more of a software solution than a means of making a manufacturing or materials-handling process more efficient. For workers who use a computer to process digital data, UiPath helps them automate sequences that would otherwise require several manual steps to complete. Its customers are found in industries ranging from banking to healthcare to government agencies, and more. But the end goal is the same — making people and processes more efficient by handling the time-consuming duties that don’t require ongoing oversight so those individuals can devote more time and attention to more important matters.
That said, manufacturers will still find real fiscal benefit by utilizing UiPath’s offerings.
Perhaps the most bullish aspect of UiPath, however, isn’t so much what it does but how it does it. Access to its automation software is rented rather than outright sold, translating into recurring revenue. The company’s annualized revenue run rate now stands at $1.38 billion, up 24% year over year thanks to the $70 million worth of subscription-based revenue UiPath picked up during a relatively challenging three-month stretch ending in October.
Better still, UiPath is inching its way toward real generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) profitability, and may even swing to a true profit within a couple of years — particularly if Interact Analysis’ expectations for the automation industry are on target.
Those investors who’ve been keeping close tabs on UiPath probably know the stock was catapulted higher last week in response to blowout quarterly earnings. The move even pushed the stock past its current consensus price target of $23.88. This could certainly make it tough to log more gains in the immediate future. It wouldn’t be crazy to hold off for a while and let this froth settle before stepping in.
Just don’t wait too long if you make this choice. The market’s strongest stocks have a funny way of staying strong even when it seems like they shouldn’t.
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