Speeding up adoption of industrial automation and robotics can lead to dramatic improvements in productivity, according to a new report just published by experts at the Coventry-based Manufacturing Technology Centre and the Industrial Policy Research Centre, Loughborough University.
"Robotics and Automation: A New Perspective" says that the slow uptake of robotics among British manufacturers, and a reluctance to invest in automation, has contributed to the country's vanishingly small improvements in productivity in recent years.
But investment in automation along with reshoring manufacturing operations, can lead to new opportunities for UK businesses.
The report, compiled by MTC and IPRC experts with contributions from major players in the world of automation, says the UK is 24th in the world for robot density in manufacturing businesses, and lags behind in productivity as a result. But the technology to turn the situation around already exists. The priority is to improve the rate of adoption.
The report, with experts from a wide range of fields contributing opinions and recommendations, calls for a renewed emphasis on the need to improve productivity through the use of automation, with manufacturers, research organisations, equipment suppliers and Government working together to help businesses improve their performance through the intelligent use of automation. The report also stresses the importance of independent advice to new users, particularly in the SME supply chain.
Mike Wilson, the MTC's chief automation officer, said that the pandemic had exposed weaknesses in the UK's extended supply chains leading to a recognition that there was a need to increase the resilience of UK manufacturing by increasing local content and reshoring production capacity.
The report calls for more support for UK businesses to help them with adoption at every stage, from identifying opportunities, getting workforce buy-in, selecting suppliers, ensuring they have the right skills, and implementing solutions. It also calls for knowledge-sharing across industry and the automation supply chain in order to develop, demonstrate, test and de-risk affordable and deployable automation, targeting those UK manufacturers who have under-invested in the past.
Better training is also called for, particularly short courses which don't take key people out of the business for long periods of time.
The report also calls for a specific emphasis on SMEs to adopt automation and robotics technology, possibly through an extension to the Made Smarter programme. It also recommends stronger networks, specifically for robots and automation, to encourage more cooperation and communication, to share knowledge and expertise, and to represent the sector to other parties, including Government.
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