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The future is bright for robotics

There is much happening within the UK at the moment which has the potential to drive a step change in the uptake of robot automation. As many will know the UK has been one of slowest adopters of robot automation. Outside the automotive industry our robot density (number of robots per 10,000 employees) is 33 compared to 170 in Germany, 81 in Spain and 75 in France (International Federation of Robotics, World Robotics 2016).

The government has recognised the need to improve productivity within UK manufacturing and,

I believe, has also recognised the positive role robot automation can play. The recent Industrial Strategy green paper emphasised the need to improve productivity and recognised the low uptake of robots in the UK. Stating that Germany and France can produce in four days what we take five days to make. The Industrial Strategy paper called on industry to develop sector deals. These would effectively be a partnership between businesses, academia and government to address the specific barriers that are holding back each sector.

One of the key sector deals for robot automation will be the Industrial Digitisation Review (IDR). This is heavily oriented towards Industry 4.0 or the 4th Industrial Revolution, and industrial robotics is recognised as a key element of the review. As well as looking at the potential and benefits of automation across a range of industry sectors this review is also addressing issues such as barriers and the question of jobs verses growth and productivity. The positive aspect of our current position is that many of the solutions required have already been developed and proven in other countries. They may well need modifying to suit the specific needs of our factories but the basic concepts and technologies already exist and are in use. However, there is a lack of awareness of these solutions.

One major challenge may well be our supply chain for automation solutions. A key component of the supply chain is the system integration businesses that implement these automation solutions. In the UK these are often relatively small businesses with limited resources.

Therefore there needs to be strong cooperation between the manufacturing businesses as well as the supply chain for automation and also the education system to ensure the needs of the industry can be met both in terms of the solutions and also the expertise required to implement and operate these systems.

This is where the sector deal can help. By identifying these barriers and proposing solutions government support can be gained to ensure the appropriate resource can be applied, with support of industry. The submission of the sector deal is timetabled to be during the summer with decisions to be made later this year.

This could be our opportunity to make a once in a lifetime change to the use of automation within UK manufacturing. Let us make the most of it.

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