60 second interview: Chris Sumner, Managing Director, FANUC UK

TM interviews the managing director of FANUC Robotics UK Limited, provider of robotic solutions for the manufacturing industry.

Chris Sumner
Chris Sumner

TM: The UK is not renowned for its willingness to adopt automation. Why do you think this is?

The UK remains the lowest user of industrial robotics among technically developed countries in Europe. Unlike our European counterparts, traditionally there has been little incentive for companies to automate for efficiency.

Take the food industry for example. Concerns around the industry’s long-term viability, coupled with an influx in low-cost and flexible labour has had a notable impact on capital expenditure in automation.

But things are improving. The recent explosion in the UK automotive industry, has been a key driver of sales of industrial robots in the UK. Proving that when a company has a long-term plan, automation allows them to become more effective and efficient. It’s time that other sectors took note.

TM: Besides simply supplying automation equipment to manufacturers, what other measures in terms of training and development does FANUC carry out?

We work with customers before, during and after a sale to ensure products are used safely and efficiently; working to ensure new operators understand machines fully.

Prior to any purchase, we work with customers to understand their individual needs. Through this process, we make informed observations of where automation will deliver benefits, and how.

TM: How important is R&D to a company like Fanuc and is the company planning for a UK industrial sector that is embracing automation more so than it already does?

R&D is the lifeblood of robotics and automation. The UK team is responsible for R&D from a process perspective. We have application area-specific expertise, such as welding and paint, where we’re able to offer turnkey solutions and ensure the final product meets increasingly varied customer demands.

TM: How are you developing engineering skills in house at FANUC to move with the automation industry?

The robotics and automation industry crosses a variety of disciplines, so developing capable engineers for the future with the necessary core skill requirements is essential.

We’ve been committed to our award-wining apprenticeship programme for 15 years, as well as hiring postgrads primarily in software and design positions. Through partnerships with local universities and colleges, as well as our own intensive on-the-job training, we provide a four-year programme where apprentices learn core engineering skills alongside company-specific training in robotics.

TM: Do you think there is more the UK Government could do to help drive the push for more automation implementation in the UK industrial sector?

With the UK still lagging behind Europe, it’s vital the government supports the sector and helps companies that require financing.

Across the continent we see strong tax incentives to invest in automation and we need to see that level of support, and a long-term approach to manufacturing, reflected by UK policy makers.

TM: What’s next for FANUC UK? And what do you think is next in the robotics industry?

At FANUC, our aim is to make robotics and automation as accessible as possible to companies of all shapes and sizes. To achieve that, all of our design work and R&D is focused on making robots cost effective, while retaining the same levels of functionality.

We are seeing advances in robot technology that are opening up the possibility of one-to-one collaboration between robots and the human workforce. By combining the two, the factory of the future will be one in which the precision and stamina of robots is complemented by the manual dexterity and ingenuity of humans.​

About Chris Sumner

Chris Sumner is managing director of FANUC UK and vice president of FANUC Robotics Europe. Prior to the realignment of FANUC’s UK divisions earlier this year, Chris had been managing director of FANUC Robotics UK for over 15 years.

Chris’ career in robotics and automation spans almost 40 years. Chris has been influential in the design, integration and installation of robotic automation systems since their introduction to the UK in the 1970s.

Under Chris’ leadership, FANUC UK has made a large investment in talent and established the company’s first apprenticeship scheme outside of its Japan headquarters. The scheme has been recognised by various industry bodies, including the Midland Group Training Services Limited (MGTS), for the quality of its training and its encouragement of young engineers entering robotics.

Chris has also been instrumental in driving a perception change in the UK around the benefits of robotics, and continues to promote new initiatives that make automation accessible to small, medium and large businesses alike.