North American robotics companies posted gains of 24 percent in new orders in the first quarter, according to new statistics released by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), an industry trade group. A total of 4,603 robots valued at $274.5 million were sold to North American manufacturing firms through March. Including sales outside North America, 5,027 robots valued at $293.9 million were sold — a gain of 26 percent in units and 3 percent in revenue. "It's encouraging to see new orders growing again," Donald A. Vincent, Executive Vice President of RIA, said in a statement. "This is the highest number of robots we've seen ordered in a quarter since midway through 2005." Orders by automotive manufacturing companies and their suppliers — the largest growth area — jumped 45 percent. Robots that perform spot welding, arc welding, coating/dispensing, and material handling were most in demand. Other sectors where RIA saw order growth in the first quarter included life sciences, pharmaceuticals and biomedical (up 48 percent) and plastics and rubber (up 9 percent). About 168,000 robots are currently in use in U.S. factories, making the U.S. second only to Japan in overall robot use, according to RIA estimates.