Automate, innovate, elevate

To some, discussions about automation often involve ambitious visions of robots and drones. A bit sci-fi maybe, however, UK manufacturers seem set on accelerating the installation of automation and robotics in their production plants. As well as looking for efficiency gains, the decision to automate comes as a natural consequence of labour shortages. Much as there are obstacles to automating UK manufacturing: fears over robots stealing jobs, a short-term vision for return on investment, and a lack of education in automation, the future is set – automation is the next step.

Recent optimism among manufacturers reported by Make UK’s latest survey suggests a 2024 with growing investments in automation – which is very much needed for the industry to keep global momentum.

This marks a distinct change in attitude for Britain. According to Søren Peters, CEO, HowToRobot, who has a positive outlook on manufacturing competitiveness in the UK, there is a growing appetite for investments that could translate into new automation projects in 2024 – if costs are kept in check.

Automation will help address some of the most pressing concerns for manufacturers – among them rising input costs, the cost of labour, and labour shortages. The UK, despite some success, is still lagging behind other countries in its use of industrial robots — and productivity could be suffering as a result. The UK is behind comparable manufacturing nations such as the US, Germany, Italy, and China, with 98 robots per 10,000 people employed in manufacturing in 2022 – below the world average of 151 – according to the International Federation of Robotics.

Given the vast range of tasks that have yet to be automated, it should be straightforward for many businesses to find effective and proven solutions that carry little risk and a potentially significant return, says Søren Peters.

At the outset, we said one of the key priorities for manufacturers this year will be how to keep costs in check – for automation and everything else. If we are to leave behind a year marked by inflation, it may not be surprising to see that “cost control” is the business strategy that most manufacturers (48.5%) consider this year according to Make UK’s survey.

Peters notes that for the past two years, price increases accelerated for most things, including robotics components. Now that inflationary pressures seem to be easing, the trend will likely reverse according to estimates from Interact Analysis. The cost of critical components used in industrial robots, including motors, drives, gearboxes, sensors, end effectors, and more, is projected to decline by 1% each year from 2023-27. Additionally, the growing global demand for automation generates a wider range of proven and cost-effective technologies and solutions every year. Overall, this points towards automation becoming more affordable for a broader range of businesses.

As Peters tells Food & Drink Technology, it also suggests that businesses should regularly check up on the market rates, as the cost of a robot solution is not necessarily what it was a few years back or more. Also, new and more affordable types of solutions may have become available in the meantime.

Now, the practical implementation and the widespread adoption of automation may typically target larger businesses that had the capability to conduct this type of market research on a regular basis. But, HowToRobot knows all businesses can benefit. Its platform specifies automation projects and can get a range of solutions from relevant suppliers, simple and fast through a partnership with the Manufacturing Technology Center.

With more barriers being removed, 2024 looks promising for UK manufacturers looking to automate and invest in robots. Automation may be the future but it must be approached in a cost-conscious manner.

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