Implementation of Robot Systems – author Q&A

Posted on 3 Jan 2015 by Jonny Williamson

With his new book offering an introduction to robotics, automation and successful systems integration, Mike Wilson talks exclusively with The Manufacturer about his perceptions of UK manufacturing, the motivations behind the manuscript and what he hopes to achieve with its launch.

Mike Wilson
Mike Wilson, chairman, British Automation and Robot Association.

What do you believe is the main challenge currently facing UK manufacturers, particularly SMEs?

The need to improve competitiveness in the face of global competition, something made more difficult by the trend of increasing costs (energy, raw materials, etc.) alongside a shortage of skilled labour within the UK.

Presently manufacturing is doing fairly well and employment is increasing. However, this is at the cost of productivity. This cannot be sustainable long term as competitiveness must be decreasing alongside the loss of productivity.

I believe the success of manufacturing depends on strong performance in three areas to support excellence: product and process innovation, something the UK is very good at, with new products, technologies and processes being developed and implemented; and effective operations, for example the application of lean principles. Again, the UK is pretty good in that regard as many of our manufacturing operations are extremely lean.

Much of government support is directed at these first two areas, but the third aspect which must also be achieved is investment in capital equipment, equipping the work force with the tools to do the job. The UK is particularly poor at investment in the latest capital equipment and particularly automation. An important element of this is the need for flexibility and productivity – which means we should be investing in robots, as a flexible tool. However, the UK is behind all our main competitors in the investment in robots.

What do you consider to be the main trend affecting UK industry?

From experience, and supported by various recent surveys, it is apparent that many UK companies do not think robots are appropriate to them. They think robots are too difficult and/or complicated for their operations and they also do not know how to go about investigating and buying this type of equipment. Ironically finance does not appear to be a barrier; it is the perceptions of the technology and how to start that appear to be the main problems.

Implementation of Robot Systems Front Cover
Wilson’s book is available through the Elsevier Store.

What was the motivation behind your writing of this book?

I have been chairman/president of the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA) for more than 20 years. Over that time I have made many presentations and had numerous conversations about the need for the UK to increase its uptake of automation and robots. I have also taught modules on robotics and automation (on behalf of Warwick University) to overseas students in Singapore and India.

I have yet to find any document or book that encompasses this type of information. Most books on robotics are highly academic, whereas I always believed that there was a need to provide something much more practical. Something to guide new users (or less experienced users) along a path to successfully purchasing and implementing robot systems.

What did the writing process involve?

The content predominantly came from experience, 30 years of working in the industry both for users and suppliers, as well as being a consultant and tutor. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit many different types of industries in many countries around the world.

My knowledge and thought processes have all been developed over this time and the main challenge was getting this knowledge down on paper. It took three years to write principally because I was simultaneously working full time during much of its creation.

What do you hope to achieve with the book?

I hope to encourage more engineers to undertake automation and robot projects and to provide them with the basic knowledge and tools which will make it easier for them to initiate successful projects. Hopefully it is not a difficult read, but conveys useful information and ideas both simply and clearly.

Although written for engineers (either professional or student), its content is also of worth for senior managers, managing directors and financial controllers as it provides some basic knowledge which could help them drive more automation and robots into their businesses.

Ultimately I hope what I have put on paper will have a positive impact on the robot industry and manufacturing in general, particularly in the UK.

Wilson’s book is available through the Elsevier Store and can be purchased here.

About the author:

Mike Wilson has more than 30 years of experience in the application of automation to manufacturing across a broad range of industry sectors throughout Europe, Asia and America. Previously he has worked for both users and suppliers of automation, and as an independent consultant providing automation expertise to industry and training via Warwick Manufacturing Group. He is widely recognised as one of the UK’s leading authorities on the application of industrial robot systems.

Wilson is general industry sales manager for ABB Robotics leading the drive to increase the use of robots across UK manufacturing. In addition, he is chairman of the British Automation and Robot Association, director of the Processing and Packaging Machinery Association and vice chairman of the Engineering and Machinery Alliance. He has previously been chairman of the International Federation of Robotics, from 2000 to 2003.