Automation: the enabler for British Industry?

Posted on 27 Nov 2014 by Jonny Williamson

Leading figures from the world of automation discussed the the trends and issues that are shaping the sector, alongside the industry as a whole, during the UK’s largest event of its kind, The Manufacturer Directors’ Conference (TMDC).

Yesterday’s panel discussion was prefaced by an introduction from Dr Graeme Philp, chief executive of GAMBICA, the national organisation representing the interests of companies in the instrumentation, control, automation and laboratory technology industry.

He urged the participants, both on the panel and in the audience, to view the session as an opportunity for the members of the automation industry to share their projections for the future with the wider-manufacturing community, and to engage with it accordingly.

As such, the panel posed three principal questions:

  • Why does the UK remain the lowest user of automation and robotics within the leading technology nations?
  • How comfortable is the UK industry in regards to looking at automation and new technology such as the Internet of Everything, big data and cloud infrastructure within the manufacturing environment?
  •  What are the main barriers of investment to UK automation, is it a lack of skills, sense of short-terminism or has industry just not bought into ‘hype’?

Andrew Stark, chief operating officer of the PPMA Group, highlighted that “the issue surrounding the UK’s adoption of automation and robotics probably wouldn’t have made the national media even a few years ago, which would indicate a change of attitudes.” Though he warned that a lot more still had to be done to effect a more rounded culture-change.

Responding to whether a potential barrier towards greater automation investment was a lack of relevant skilled engineers, Simon Keogh, business manager for Siemens Factory Automation, commented that traditionally engineers specialised in one field, but what industry needed moving forward was for engineers to have a “broader skill-set” with “a heavy grounding in IT.”

Tony Hague, managing director of PP Electrical, pushed the point further, by suggesting manufacturers, especially SMEs, needed to do more to engage with their local community and be more proactive, rather than “feeling sorry for themselves” and propagating the view that it was a solely “Government issue.”

A comment from the audience revealed another possible barrier might be an overall lack of confidence in local internet service, with calls for a greater push for fibre optic provision across all areas of the UK, not just those that are seen as more financially viable.

Dr Philp responded to the comment and concluded: “We have a tendency to be a bit self-satisfied regarding [the UK’s] digital infrastructure and though we may have got it right for today, we certainly haven’t for tomorrow.”

The Manufacturer is interested in hearing your views on the questions posed by the panel, so please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.