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Warehouse Automation


Last year, Engineering UK, a not-for-profit organisation which works in partnership with the engineering community, took soundings from professional engineering institutions on the UK’s skills shortage. Some elements of its report*1 were encouraging, others alarming, but UK manufacturers need not fear for the future. Developers of robots are rising to the challenge, making automation even easier to adopt, set-up and apply.

Engineering UK confirmed 27% of enterprises in the UK are engineering-related, generating 23% of the UK’s total turnover. The sector now employs around 5.6 million people, a 5.1% increase in employment over the last five years. And for every new job created in engineering 1.74 jobs are created elsewhere in the economy.

Now the worrying element. A figure of around 124,000 engineers and technicians with core engineering skills are required per year plus a further 79,000 in engineering-related roles. Yet Engineering UK predicts an annual shortfall of up to 59,000 and nearly half of the employers surveyed reported recruitment difficulties.

The answer to this problem is investment in robotics and automation, not just to overcome the evident resource shortage but also to make engineering more appealing to the digital generation.

There has never been a better time to consider robotic automation both from a practical or financial standpoint. The options have never been greater, allowing any manufacturer irrespective or their size or experience in automation, to take advantage of technology.

Set-up is no longer a specialist or time-consuming job and, with the availability of robots that are either collaborative or stand-alone, the production solution can be modular and scalable. To complement this, robot manufacturers are creating application platforms on which developers and integrators present products that allow robots to be customised.

Many robots are also Internet of Things ready with built-in, standard communication protocols. So, they can be easily integrated into a smart production environment when the need arises.

Of course, automation isn’t just about overcoming the skills gap. The UK has been slow to invest, with less than 0.5% of worldwide robot sales installed here.*2 But to compete in a global market and be cost competitive, automation must become second nature to our manufacturers. It is the way companies across the world are driving their productivity and quality and we mustn’t be left behind.

A dynamic production environment is also much more attractive to the up and coming generation of engineers. So, by investing in the means to bridge the skills gap UK manufacturers could also be providing the stimulus to narrow the divide. In effect, it’s a win-win solution.

*2 Source – IFR World Robotics Industrial Robot Report 2018

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