ROBOT SALES REACH ALL TIME HIGH
31 October 2012
Sales of robots from January to March 2012 outstripped sales in any other quarter to date. Then as the trend continued, sales for the first two quarters have exceeded all previous full year sales to date on record!
Once again almost all of this growth can be attributed to the automotive and automotive components sectors with continued demand for vehicles coming from overseas emerging markets.
In the first quarter robot sales of 923 units were recorded which is larger than the annual total for many of the previous years. The second quarter brought this figure to 2000 for the half year end. Automotive orders contributed 85% of this figure in the first quarter and 89% of the sales in the second. This trend appears to be continuing, at least in the short term.
Whilst in most other sectors robot sales are increasing, the growth still remains sluggish.
Mike Wilson, British Automation and Robot Association chairman said: "These recent large investments show the commitment of the automotive companies to their UK manufacturing facilities.” He continued: "However, robot sales in some other sectors, such as food and drink, are not keeping up with the increasing use of robots worldwide. Automotive continuing to buy robots is not a particular surprise – they recognise the benefits to their manufacturing. Our concern is the broader picture and the risk to competitiveness that will result from lack of investment in automation technologies.”
SKILLS SHORTAGES IN AUTOMATION
To compound the problem there is also an acute lack of skilled employees throughout many of the manufacturing sectors as a whole, which includes automation and robotics. This is particularly so in the food sector, where, contrary to common belief, robots more often than not create more jobs by increasing capacity, efficiency and productivity.
IT SHOULD BE A PRIORITY TO AUTOMATE, INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY AND EXPAND
BUT WE DON’T YET HAVE THE PEOPLE WITH THE REQUIRED SKILLS
The PPMA group of trade associations is actively engaged with both industry and academia in an attempt to address this problem with the creation of the Academic Forum for Robotics. Peter Whitfield, working in the food and drink manufacturing sector with the Appetite for Engineering initiative, has recognised the extensive skills and personnel shortages in the industry. He says: "It is amazing that, in today’s economic climate, and with unemployment levels high, that there are so many jobs that cannot be filled. Part of the problem is one of image, with most people seeing manufacturing and processing as an unpleasant environment to work in. Also, they do not realise how hi-tech and rewarding the country’s biggest industry is, worth over £76 billion and employing almost half a million people. It should be a priority to automate, increase productivity and expand but we don’t yet have the people with the required skills.” Chris Buxton the CEO of the PPMA Group of Trade Associations said: "Our members for some time have reported a severe lack of applicants in the engineering and manufacturing sectors.” He continued: "We know that there are many people in industry reaching retirement age but there is a severe lack of skilled individuals to replace them with many applicants having no relevant qualifications or a poor work ethic. What is needed is an active recruitment drive at schools to encourage individuals either into apprenticeships or suitable courses as there are increasing numbers of vacancies that are proving very difficult to fill. With automation comes jobs, increased productivity and exports – we need applicable courses and training in order to support the growth that can be achieved through automating UK manufacturing.” AUTOMATING MANUFACTURING The government’s drive to automate UK manufacturing is going extremely well. According to Grant Collier, head of marketing for the PPMA Group of Associations, managing the programme, "over 220 manufacturers around the UK have taken up the free Government backed Automating Manufacturing Programme which shows manufacturers how they can benefit from automation”. Applications to date have come from a wide range of industries, including over one third from the food sector which is surprising since this has traditionally been an area very slow to adopt automation. He added: "The initial review is fully funded by the UK government with no obligation to take it further, the application process is simple, all companies should be looking at this as a route to improve their manufacturing operation.”