By Mike Wilson (Chief Automation Officer, MTC)
UK manufacturing is facing a serious productivity challenge. Brexit and COVID-19 have exposed weaknesses in our supply chains and the industry is facing the tightest labour market we have seen in modern times. These challenges could be addressed, in part, by a faster adoption of robotics and automation, but whether due to lack of awareness or finances, UK businesses have been reluctant to invest.
The recently published “Robotics and Automation: A New Perspective” delves into the low uptake of automation and robotics. The study was led by the Manufacturing Technology Centre, part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, and the Industrial Policy Research Centre at Loughborough University. Drawing on their combined knowledge, the report identifies potential reasons behind the low adoption of automation and suggests recommendations for solving these issues. The overwhelming conclusion is that manufacturers, research organisations, equipment suppliers and the Government need to share knowledge and resources to enable the sector to profit from robotics and automation. This collaboration should be focused on four key areas: skills and education, finance, awareness and support.
To kickstart the process, public attitudes surrounding automation and robotics need to change. We need to address the perception that these technologies pose a threat to people’s livelihoods and jobs. Evidence has shown automation and robotics will increase employment and will offer the workforce the opportunity to gain new skills. However, shifting perceptions can only be achieved through the combined efforts of sectoral bodies, trade unions and the media to ensure the benefits of automation and robotics are accurately shared to a large audience.
The financial community has a vital role in this journey. Learning resources should be freely available to ensure they understand the benefits of robotics and automation and are not discouraged to invest by any perceived risk. On the other hand, businesses need to know how to build a strong business case to ensure they can access the required funding to adopt automation in their own operations. The partnership with financial bodies and investors should provide businesses, especially SMEs, the tools to adopt robotics and automation.
This report is only the start of the journey. The industry has the solution to its productivity problem, but without the rapid uptake of automation and robotics, the UK will struggle to keep up with global manufacturing powerhouses. Our challenge is to embed these solutions within the industry with the support of the Government, industry experts, equipment suppliers and the media. With automation and robotics, we have the opportunity to solve the challenges faced by UK manufacturing and ensure its future prosperity.