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Release the robot potential!

14 January 2020

Despite the emphatic Conserative win in the recent general election and talked-about flurry of contracts given the go-ahead in the immediate aftermath of the outcome, things still do not seem to be looking particularly rosey in the the UK industrial sector, with economists warning that the long term picture for the economy continues to be one of relative weakness. Of course, these are unprecedented times and I’m not going to pretend I understand all, if any, of the contributing factors, but coming at the issue from CDA-centric point of view, I feel that one thing is certain - if the UK is remain competitive in the global economy it must invest in increased automation.

Worryingly, the latest national Manufacturing Barometer report reveals that just 16% of UK SME manufacturing businesses have adopted robots, with another 13% saying they plan to start using them - but even worse it s that over 70% have no plans, or are unsure about, introducing robots!

Published by SWMAS and partner Economic Growth Solutions, the study also highlights a sector experiencing its toughest quarter in a decade. More SME manufacturers report a reduction in sales, profits and staff numbers than recorded in any period across the last ten years. And some 44% of businesses experienced a fall in profits in the last quarter – 10% more than in the previous three months.

Simon Howes, MD of SWMAS, authors of the report, said: “With both Brexit and a potential change in government causing ongoing uncertainty the Manufacturing Barometer shows manufacturers are finding their ability to recruit, invest and increase sales is ever more restricted. So, finding technological solutions is increasingly important.

“And there is an opportunity to do more with robots: you can see this in the government’s Industrial Strategy, the continuing drive to increase productivity, and the need to find new ways to operate with fewer staff.

“Although the UK ranks as the 8th largest industrial nation, we are 22nd in the global league of robot adoption – we must ask why that is, and this is what we set out to explore in our study of the UK’s SME manufacturing sector.

“Three important things came out of our research. The first is the simple truth that so few SME manufacturers in the UK are using robots in their businesses. Secondly, a belief that low volume, variable or difficult to handle products make robots unviable. Thirdly, more than one third of SME manufacturers who do not use robots are unsure if their competitors do, raising questions around awareness of what is actually possible for them.”

He continues: "We call on manufacturers to look again at robots and at how their competitors are using them. We also ask robot suppliers to look specifically at SME manufacturers’ concerns and provide better awareness of the latest solutions.

"It also seems to be true, as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy highlights, that a lack of awareness around robots is harming the productivity of businesses, particularly for SMEs.

“For the potential of robots to be realised, the UK’s SME manufacturers need much better awareness, tailored advice and flexible support to help them plan and integrate robots into their businesses - this is a huge challenge, but one we can overcome.” 

 
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