AUTOMATION IS KEY TO MANUFACTURING GROWTH … and to plugging the skills’ shortage, Peter Williamson, Managing Director – R.A. Rodriguez (UK) and RARUK Automation
At long last the UK is re-awakening to the importance of manufacturing. Whilst it may have been the failings of other parts of our economy that has re-focussed our attention, the end result is a strong desire to get more productive.
Innovation in the field of product and process design has always been a UK strength but the cost of producing our goods has become a big issue as others do it much more cheaply. And it’s not just because the cost of labour is lower in other countries but also that their manufacturers have more readily adopted automation.
The obvious need is for UK manufacturers to drive down unit costs whilst, at the same time, assuring high and consistent quality. Automation is the key ingredient here but the sad fact is that less than 0.5% of worldwide robots sold last year were installed in the UK.*1
It’s certainly true that robots used to be costly and inflexible requiring specialist and time-consuming set-up. Naturally manufacturers were reticent to take the plunge unless production volumes justified the investment. But automation industry has read the signs and responded by completely opening-up the market and there has never been a better time for UK manufacturers to invest.
The options are extensive. Robots, both stand-alone and those that work collaboratively with humans, allow manufacturers to consider modular automation systems that grow with their business. They are easy to specify, install and programme and many are also Internet of Things ready with built-in, standard communication protocols.
By investing in flexible manufacturing and systems with fast set-up, manufacturers can also swiftly accommodate product design changes and also make a greater variety of products.
Automation can also have an important impact on our skills shortage. Engineering UK, a not-for-profit organisation which works in partnership with the engineering community, has predicted an annual shortfall of 59,000.*2 Engineers are coming into industry both as graduates and increasingly as apprentices but not in sufficiently high numbers to sustain the momentum.
These young people need to see engineering as a sector that is both dynamic and challenging. And investment in automation can actively help UK manufacturing to shake off its backward and grimy image and offer rewarding employment.
More than ever we need this new breed of skilled and enthusiastic engineers to build a manufacturing base that the world’s designers choose above others for its high quality and cost-efficiency production.