Late last year the International Federation for Robotics, the leading robotic process automation group, released the annual robotic density figures for 2019 and it made for grim reading for the UK market.
Where globally, the numbers of robots used within robot process automation increased by 12% on the previous calendar year, robot installations also continued to increase in Europe (7% on 2018) and the United States (7% on 2018), while in China, the Asian market’s largest robotic adopter in recent years, saw a mammoth 21% rise. These increases saw the number of installed robots globally reach an impressive 2.7million.
Closer to home, the numbers weren’t as positive, however. With the UK’s closest manufacturing competitors France, Italy & Germany all having significant rises in the number of robots installed (6,700, 11,100, 20,500 units, respectively), the UK was significantly behind with just 2,000 new units, seeing a decrease in growth of 16% from the previous year.
*Data pulled from - https://www.ppma.co.uk/resource/record-robots-work-in-factories-worldwide.html
It is important to note, however, that these numbers are collated from the calendar year 2019 and therefore do not fully reflect the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on manufacturing. Early reports suggest an initial dip due to the pause in the industry as a whole, but a rise in demand for robotic process automation is expected due to the need for social distancing & hygiene measures as well as increasing manufacturing demands.
Although, in the UK food industry (an industry that uses mostly pick and place solutions for fast and accurate palletising and loading), there has been a 100% growth in the sector during the early months of COVID compared with the previous year. But despite the rise in pick and place food automation, the question still remains, why does the UK always remain behind on automation investment?
Controversy Around Robotic Process Automation
We’re no strangers to singing the praises of robotic process automation and the benefits it can bring to companies, with increases in quality, efficiency and consistency guaranteed. In turn, this leads to higher profits, expansion and further investment, creating more job opportunities within your business.
But the UK often paints robotic automation and robotic companies as the demise of jobs within manufacturing, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. As Jeremy Hadall, Chief Technologist for Robotics and Automation at The Manufacturing Technology Centre states "those nations that have embraced robotics have higher productivity rates and are increasing the number of manufacturing jobs”.
So nations that have vastly higher numbers of robots such as Germany and South Korea not only have higher numbers of jobs within manufacturing, a result of higher levels of productivity, they also have a far lower rate of unemployment and continue to be a flagship for ‘quality manufacturing’ on a global scale.
Bauromat UK Limited Managing Director John D’Angelillo also adds that the UK suffers from a more general ‘mentality’ problem when it comes to investment in new technologies.
“The number of times we hear ‘we’ve done it this way for so long, we don’t feel the need for change’, but if you’re not moving forward with technology you’re going to get left behind.
“We’re the nation of the industrial revolution, innovators on a global scale yet at this next advancement in technology we’re dragging our heels and remaining in the dark ages. There’s only one way to keep up, and that is automation".
It goes beyond a mentality issue though too. Investment in new technologies has seemed in statis for a number of years in the UK, likely a response to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the lack of a solid deal with the European Union. Investment also seems to falter when there is no strong majority in Parliament and from 2010 onwards we saw a Government plagued with a hung-Parliament, followed by a narrow Conservative majority, all of which has an effect.
The reality is, until Brexit is sorted and the pandemic has lifted, the UK is likely to remain some distance behind.
Robotics Companies in the UK
Despite this, robotic companies in the UK are aplenty, from UK divisions of international robot manufacturers including the likes of FANUC, KUKA and ABB to a range of integrators and solutions providers with a vast range of knowledge of the industry. If you’re looking for UK robotic companies, you’re spoilt for choice. But just make sure you choose one with a proven track record and that you feel comfortable working with.