Short contracts in food sector spoil strong robot sales

Posted on 6 Aug 2013

UK robot sales in the second quarter 2013 have almost matched sales for full year 2011, but short term contracts for food manufacturers are blamed for low sales in non-automotive sectors.

In the second quarter of 2013, 912 robots were sold in the UK, compared with 374 units recorded in the first quarter.

The half year figures were 1,286 robots sold compared with 2,000 robots in the record year of 2012. However, automotive and automotive component orders contributed 79% of the orders this year, compared with 87% for the first two quarters of the year in 2012, showing a small shift of sales into non-automotive sectors.

BARA robot sales in UK - years
All robot sales in UK by quarter. Source: BARA

In non-automotive, 273 robots were sold in the first half of 2013, compared with 224 in the same period in 2012. David Manby, managing director of Aylesbury Automation, said “we are pleased to see that the sales of non-automotive sector robotics are double what they were in 2009.”

While in most sectors robot sales are increasing, growth still remains muted and in some sectors sales are falling.

Mike Wilson, chair of the British Automation and Robot Association, said “while we welcome the level of robot orders from the automotive sector largely driven by product demand in global emerging markets, it is a concern that some sectors still do not seem to understand the potential implications of not automating.

He continued “Other countries such as China, Germany and most of the major European manufacturing nations, even countries where there are no original equipment manufacturers, are investing heavily in automation to create competitive advantage”.

Wilson attributes low robot sales to a short-term approach to business and the perception that the payback period is considerably longer than it often is.

BARA Robot Sales-non auto
Robot sales in UK - non automotive. Source: BARA

The government’s recent drive to automate UK manufacturing under the Automating Manufacturing programme is nearing completion.

Grant Collier, head of marketing for the PPMA group of trade associations which manages the programme, praised the success of the programme. “Over 360 manufacturers in the UK have taken up the government funded Automating Manufacturing Programme which shows manufacturers how they can benefit from automation.”

Over one third of applications have come from the food sector, a surprising result since this has traditionally been an area very slow to adopt automation. He added, “it is frustrating to hear time and again, that many of the food sector companies are reluctant to automate due to the shortness of contracts and the ability to withdraw them with little notice from the major supermarkets”.

He added “hopefully this will improve with the recent appointment of the groceries code of conduct adjudicator – a regulator that will monitor relationships and practices within the grocery supply chain”.