Automation: Automate or Die!

Posted on 19 Feb 2014 by Callum Bentley

Grant Collier, head of marketing, the British Automation and Robot Association takes an honest look at the UK’s remaining industrial weaknesses while others revel in its new found strengths.

Now is a good time to be involved in manufacturing in the UK. Not only are we seeing growth but confidence throughout industry.

But in the battle to constantly compete in globalised markets, it is essential that we address weaknesses in our industrial base as well as celebrating strengths.

So far, UK growth has been partly internally driven and assisted by positive rhetoric, and increasing action, from HM government.

UK manufacturers have a track record of competitively innovating for both product and process development. They have made strides in the application of lean engineering for efficiency

However, a poor track record on investment in capital equipment, especially industrial automation technologies, is could really hamstring us.

The UK is well behind other competing manufacturing nations in Europe and, alarmingly, far slower to adopt automation than developing economies such as China that have embraced it with alacrity.

Automation for flexibility

Robots are only one form of automation – there are many more – but they offer one of the most obvious examples of the way in which automation can be highly flexible and relevant to all – even companies with relatively small production runs and the need for frequent, quick product changes.

Increasing numbers of manufacturers are opening their eyes to the versatility of robot technology.

It is encouraging that robot installations in the UK in 2012 achieved a record of 2,477 units, up 98% on 2011, with a similar volume of 2305 units sold in 2013.

The bulk of sales have been to the automotive industry with only modest growth in other sectors such as food and pharmaceuticals. There is tremendous interest from the UK food industry in automation – but often constrained by the multiple retailers’ non-existent or short contracts which create uncertainty and reticence to automate.

Grant Collier from the British Automation and Robot Association has urged companies to visit the PPMA Show, September 30 to October 2 at the NEC to see automation in action and listen to the Groceries Code Adjudicator explain how she will effectively help unblock the food supply chain with regard to automation with new legislation.

The message is simple, if UK companies wish to remain competitive they need to automate.

It is similar to the advent of computing in the early 1970’s. Where would we be now if the UK had not adopted this technology and everyone else had?  It is the same with robotics and automation. If you wish to survive in a global market place then automate, the payback period and cost is far less than people imagine.