June 13, 2018      3 min read

The UK is one of the most advanced nations of the developed world in many areas of industry, however there are mixed reports available on their advancement through automation in the manufacturing industry. In this review, we consider the state of automation for British manufacturers.

How automatic is their automation?

Automation does not come very automatically to the British as it were, reinforced by the statements of Mike Wilson from ABB Robotics. His sentiments were that the British tend to opt to repair and fix older machinery rather than invest time and money in new machinery and technologies.

This is corroborated by data supplied by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) who predicted the use of robotics by various nations by the year 2020. Germany is the predominant user of robotics in Europe and stands as the fifth largest globally, whereas China, unsurprisingly, is the world’s largest adopter of robotics in industry. However, Britain is quite a way off featuring as a prominent user of robotics in industry despite the fact that a recent Annual Manufacturing Report reveals that 92% of manufacturers are of the impression that adopting ‘Smart Factory’ technologies and methods in production would increase their productivity dramatically.

What are some of the obstacles to higher levels of automation?

There are many variable reasons why manufacturers are slow in implementing automation in manufacturing, including the following:

Automation ‘steals’ jobs

Although this is a common perception, data actually reveals that 63% of industrial companies have never observed any job cuts due to robot implementation. In fact, more than one third of industrial companies report job creation rather than loss as a result of factory automation. What is required is a redefinition of the job where skilled people can be spared the daily shifts at the same assembly line doing the same motion and instead can be promoted and upskilled into more challenging roles.

Cost of Implementation

The exorbitant costs associated with robot implementation are often a hurdle to a company’s commitment to the endeavour. It is at this point that rental companies will meet them halfway with the rise of Robotics as a Service. Much like Software as a Service which we are all a lot more familiar with, it involves renting robots for manufacture so the costs and responsibility of ownership and maintenance are significantly less.

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Regulation and Quality Control

A perceived hurdle to AI and robotic implementation in manufacturing seems to be how to regulate it so that quality is maintained. In some ways, it can be argued that product quality will be improved with the removal of human error, however, quality systems must still incorporate the added automation to the workforce. This might just require some adjustment and identification of expert service technicians who can be on standby as a support for any issues or troubleshooting.

Knowledge Gap

A significant hurdle to automation in manufacturing is how to manage and lead it with new equipment, processes, problems and outcomes. But that’s not a reason to shy away from change! It is as simple as embracing the changes, providing staff training and calling on help where needed from expert organisations.

The impact of Brexit on British automation

Despite Britain being reportedly relatively slow in the uptake of robots in industry, the Brexit campaign was predicted to have a large impact on this. The reason for this impact is that skilled European workers would need to return to their home countries, creating a skill shortage which was anticipated to be met with an increasing implementation of robotics. However, has this really come to pass? Although the food and beverage manufacturing industries in the UK still have one of the lowest uptakes of robotics with the rate sitting at 66%, this is in fact a dramatic increase from what it was in 2016 (51%). Brexit is thought to be largely behind this with the EU labour drain.

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