The Manufacturer speaks with Steve Brambley, deputy director of GAMBICA – the national organisation representing the interests of companies in the automation, control, instrumentation and laboratory technology industry in the UK.
The “circular economy” looks to become one of the bigger talking points in 2016. Are automation and control equipment manufacturers ready for this reuse, recycle and service-based business model?
Automation vendors have been engaged for quite a few years now in improving the environmental aspects of manufacturing. Energy efficiency has been a major focus of automation projects, delivering major savings in many cases.
The industry has also readily integrated environmentally friendly components and manufacturing techniques along with the end-of-life recycling that the RoHS and WEEE regulations bring.
While the circular economy is a relatively new concept, I think the automation industry will be ready to adapt it into their business models.
What do you see are the major benefits for automation manufacturers that adopt this kind of business model?
One of the interesting facets of the circular economy concept is the service-based model – rather than based on product and system sales, the model is based on achieving results.
Examples include Rolls-Royce selling “power by the hour” rather than turbines, or Phillips selling lighting levels rather than lamps.
Automation companies could apply this model and sell productivity gains, waste reduction or energy efficiency for example.
The customer may feel more confident in making an investment based on results, rather than just capital investment.
For the automation industry, would a shift towards this kind of business model be more effectively driven by policy and subsidies, or does it have to come from each business’s willingness to change?
The customer industry appetite is a key factor in the adoption of new technologies and business models. The automation vendors will offer the solution to the manufacturer’s requirements, driven by performance and budget.
If the customer sees a benefit in the circular economy model, then the supplier will be more likely to adopt it. However, sometimes regulation is needed to drive market changes – it is early days so we don’t yet know what approach the European Commission will take
What is the greatest challenge to companies adopting automation?
One of the big challenges to a company considering an automation project is the hurdle of raising the financial investment and approval. Despite the fact that automation projects often pay back quickly and bring many benefits, it can be a tricky stage to negotiate.
Whether it is convincing a bank manager or a financial director, there is often a risk-averse attitude to capital projects, particularly during times of economic uncertainty.
I would argue that is a great time to make investments that reduce costs and waste, improve efficiency and productivity and lead to competitiveness and growth.
What trends do you think might shape the future of automation and robotics?
One of the main trends is the increasing integration and connection of devices, machines, people and systems as captured by the Industry 4.0 concept.
The aim is to deliver increased flexibility and productivity through an increased amount of inter-connected systems and autonomous decision-making.
Interoperability is a key topic to allow machine-to-machine communication, to connect the manufacturing systems with sales, material, resource and planning systems and to network suppliers, customers and third parties.
Automate UK – growth through automation
The Automation Advisory Board Thought Leadership Network’s annual conference, Automate UK will provide the opportunity to hear from industry experts not only making the case for automation equipment, but showcasing what is available and what it’s capable of.
By learning from the most innovative manufacturers embracing automation – including BMW Mini; Jaguar Land Rover; Aston Martin; Accolade Wines; Lambert Engineering; Philips AVENT; Brother Industries, and GKN Aerospace, Automate UK offers a unique benchmarking and learning experience to all those who attend.
With the limited free places available expected to go quickly, you’ll need to be swift to secure your place before full price tickets will be the only option available.
Find out more information here.