NEWS & COMMENT
RELEASE THE ROBOT POTENTIAL!
Despite the emphatic Conservative win in the recent general
election and anecdotal talk of a flurry of contracts given the go-ahead
in the immediate aftermath of the outcome, things still
do not seem to be looking particularly rosy in the UK industrial sector,
with economists warning that the long term picture 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
we 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 is that over 70% have no plans, or are unsure about,
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: “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
“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
Charlotte Stonestreet, Editor
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Western Business Media
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