Automation is changing the way many industries work, and arguably it has had the most significant impact in manufacturing. While automation itself is nothing new, we’re in the middle of a period of rapid advances in automation.
The growth of automation in manufacturing
Automation has been connected with manufacturing ever since the Ford Motor Company introduced its assembly line in 1948. However, automation, as we recognise it today, began in the 1960s with the introduction of the first modern industrial robots and fixed robotic arms. The 2000s saw automation taking leaps and bounds with the introduction of autonomous mobile robots that could drive inventory around warehouses, and collaborative robot arms.
Today, automation encompasses intelligent robots and machine learning. The newest machines can run sophisticated software that enables them to react and interact with their environment and with other robots and devices.
Big names in manufacturing have been investing in automation for a long time, and the productivity benefits of automation are undeniable. However, many of the UK’s manufacturing businesses are SMEs, who don’t necessarily have the budget to invest heavily in robotics and AI. And the UK’s overall takeup of automation is low in global terms, with a robot density just at the global average of approximately 85 units per 10,000 workers.
Yet, most companies are now aware that they need to develop an automation strategy if they want to be able to compete. AI and machine learning have become part of people’s daily lives, with connected smart homes becoming the norm and the Industrial Internet of Things making true smart factories possible. The worldwide automation industry is predicted to generate $238 billion by 2021, and manufacturers must consider how to implement automation sooner rather than later.
How will automation continue to change the manufacturing industry in a post-COVID world?
Nobody can predict the future with complete accuracy, but the COVID-19 crisis has brought home the importance of future-proofing to many business owners. Being able to adapt quickly to changes in consumer behaviour has always been desirable, but now it seems essential to business survival.
Industry 4.0 will likely continue to be a key focus point, with its focus on automation, allowing greater flexibility and more agile factories that can respond quickly to unforeseen events. Given the recent pandemic, a future where robots and humans work side-by-side, rather than factories full of humans in close proximity, is more desirable than ever. More remote working in manufacturing will become possible, and with the pandemic proving for many businesses that homeworking can be very effective, this is a likely future.
More collaboration between government and industry could help move automation in UK manufacturing forward. Government stimulus packages that focus on automation would be welcome and help to drive forward the economic recovery as well as supporting social distancing measures. Investment in training for the skills required to implement automation would also support the industry in implementing automation on a wide scale successfully.
Over the last few months, we have spoken to many manufacturers and collaborators about the challenges faced by UK manufacturing and most importantly, the SOLUTIONS, especially where automation is concerned!
The UKMfgUnite community is going to go a long way in securing the future of UK manufacturing and we are proud to be a part of that.
At Innomech, we are bespoke automation experts. Our approach will help guide you towards the ideal automation solution for your product-based business. For more information, please contact us. We would be delighted to discuss your automation requirements further.