US companies installed more robots last year than ever before, as cheaper and more flexible machines put them within reach of businesses of all sizes and in more corners of the economy beyond their traditional foothold in car plants. Shipments hit 28,478, nearly 16% more than in 2017, according to data seen by Reuters that was set for release on Thursday by the Association for Advancing Automation, an industry group based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Shipments increased in every sector the group tracks, except automotive, where carmakers cut back after finishing a major round of tooling up for new truck models. Other sectors boomed. Shipments to food and consumer goods companies surged 60% compared with the year before. Shipments to semiconductor and electronics plants were up over 50%, while shipments to metal producers rose 13%. Pressure to automate is growing as companies seek to cut labour costs in a tight job market. Many companies that are considering bringing work back from overse...

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