Robots set to lead UK manufacturing investment

14 October 2011

Barry Weller, from Mitsubishi Electric, comments on The Automating Manufacturing Programme which will be run in the UK by The British Automation and Robot Association.

Barry Weller, a specialist robot engineer with Mitsubishi Electric, recently commented on the recently announed UK scheme  to provider Government funding for automation of industrial processes. "This needs to be carefully managed to ensure that a nationwide strategy of continuous reinvestment develops," he said. "This is essential if the UK is to rebuild its manufacturing sector into a cornerstone of the economy.

“The Automating Manufacturing Programme will be run for the Government by the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA). It offers funded, impartial advice to manufacturing companies on how best automated their processes,” he said. “This is a timely development because of the drive to rebalance the economy with more manufacturing. However, it must be carefully managed so that it builds a foundation of new installations as well as always considering it as an investment option.”

The take up of robots has accelerated in the UK in recent years, with annual growth rates typically above 50%. However, this is from a very low installed base: Germany and the other European manufacturing nations have about 10 times as many robots, while Japan probably has 100 times as many.

Research would suggest that British management wants to see a return on automation investments in two years, whereas in most other countries a five year window is accepted. “This may be one of the main stumbling blocks, so needs to be studied carefully. But British managers lead the world in the adoption of lean manufacturing techniques,” said Barry. “We seem to be very good at ‘doing more with less’, but find capital investment rather harder.

“Too few managers in manufacturing have an engineering, technology or production background, so a lack appreciation of what automation can achieve. Typically they are commercial trained so naturally are quite risk adverse. A separate issue is that there is a skills gap in the technician, engineer and engineering manager levels, brought about by a long-term lack of science and technology education. The new scheme addresses all these negative issues in one go!

“However the real measure of its success will be if it can drive a sea change in attitudes towards automation investments. The simple truth is that automation pays dividends - often only a small investment is needed and competitor nations are currently more willing to make them.”

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