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The future is bright - The future is automation!

31 October 2012

Since the recent recession of 2008/09 manufacturing companies across the world have been substantially increasing their use of automation as a means of ensuring that they remain competitive in world markets, says BARA

Robot sales worldwide grew by 92% in 2010 to reach almost record levels. Statistics just released for 2011 show very encouraging figures with an average growth across all sectors of 68% (driven mainly by the automotive and automotive components sectors.) As one would expect, a proportion of this growth is in advanced economies such as Japan, North America and Germany but the most significant growth was achieved in Korea and China. China, despite its low overheads and cheap labour, is now adopting automation and robotic technology faster than any other country in Europe, including Germany.

Those companies installing automation, including both robotic and vision technologies, are reaping the benefits of significantly improved productivity. Improvements have been realised through better utilisation of manpower, with greater consistency and improved quality, which in turn leads to reduced waste and fewer ‘reworks.’ Additional benefits arise in the use of robotics for hazardous, arduous or highly repetitive jobs – overcoming health & safety concerns whilst enabling employees to undertake safer, often more stimulating work. The result is reduced costs, improved competitiveness and greater profitability. This drives business growth and creates new jobs.

The UK is traditionally strong in product innovation and has highly developed, efficient manufacturing processes. However, we are poor when it comes to investment in advanced manufacturing technologies. Far too many manufacturers are struggling with old and inefficient equipment but due to a low level of awareness of the technology available and an unusually high level of risk aversion, opportunities to realise the benefits of automation are being missed. The robot density (number of robots per 10,000 employees) in the UK, in all sectors outside of automotive, is 25. In comparison, Germany has 127, Sweden 114, Italy 97, Spain 45 and France 38 (World Robotics 2010). Unless our manufacturing companies learn to embrace automation and robotics we will find it increasingly difficult to compete in the future.

AUTOMATION –WHERE IS THE KNOWLEDGE?

The most significant problem within UK manufacturing lies in the lack of knowledge regarding automation. Sadly, the perceived risk is much greater than the reality. However, the result of doing nothing is certain; decreasing business due to reduced competitiveness.

Forward thinking UK companies have already applied automation solutions, with many making automation a cornerstone of their manufacturing strategies. These range from very small companies producing low cost items such as fridge magnets to larger companies making high quality, electrical connectors.
 
UNLESS OUR MANUFACTURING COMPANIES LEARN TO EMBRACE AUTOMATION AND ROBOTICS WE WILL FIND IT INCREASINGLY DIFFICULT TO COMPETE

There are however, still challenges in applying, even proven, automation solutions. There is a lack of expertise within our businesses to conceive and specify what is required. We also apply short payback criteria which can often kill projects. With the right cost-benefit analysis, taking account of all the benefits and potential savings, these projects could go ahead. The savings come from many sources; increased yield, reduced waste, reduced work in progress, improved energy utilisation, reduced floor space and reduced employee turnover. The cost of automation is also decreasing whereas most other costs continue to rise. Automation and robotics provide consistent performance for many years, well beyond the payback period.

AUTOMATING UK MANUFACTURING

To address these challenges the British Automation and Robot Association, with the support of the UK Government, has recently implemented the Automating Manufacturing Campaign. The immediate response has been very encouraging and in the first six months of the programme over 150 manufacturers have taken advantage of the government funded automation reviews. This programme now entering its second year provides free automation advice and a detailed bespoke report, all paid by the government, to show manufacturers where automation can improve their plant. An impartial expert visits manufacturers to identify opportunities for automation and work with the client to develop appropriate concepts and specifications. This support helps manufacturers make the first steps towards implementing successful automation solutions.

This is an excellent opportunity for UK manufacturers to investigate the benefits of automation and ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of advanced manufacturing technologies.
 

Key Points

  • BARA (British Automation and Robot Association) provides a voice for the Robot and Automation Industries, when dealing with government, industry, financial and academic institutions
  • The aim of the BARA is to promote the use of, and assist in the development of Automation in British industry
  • Should any manufacturer wish to take advantage of a free automation review they

 
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