While the UK adoption rate is roughly consistent with the global average, with 91 robot units for every 10,000 workers, we are still way behind the US and many European countries. For example, Germany has up to 338 robot units for every 10,000 workers.

Automation is widely regarded as a good thing for manufacturing. So why is the UK so far behind with the adoption of automation? And what does that mean for UK manufacturing?

Why is automation essential?

The manufacturing sector is particularly important to the UK economy. The manufacturing sector employs around 3 million workers and contributes over 10% of the UK’s economic output, compared to 7% for financial services.

UK manufacturing has seen a continuing decrease in productivity compared to the increases experienced in the manufacturing sectors of other OECD countries. Automation would help close that gap, allowing for higher productivity, better quality, better safety, and lower long-term costs. In order to compete with other countries and protect the economy, the UK needs to adopt automation in manufacturing at a higher rate.

Is the cost of automation prohibitive?

According to a poll carried out by The Engineer, 35% of respondents believed cost is the main barrier to automation in the UK.

Indeed, many SMEs may not have the funds available for upfront investment in automation, and with 99.9% of UK businesses falling into the SME category, the cost is a serious concern. For manufacturers not producing at very high scales, the cost of implementation may not seem worth the investment.

However, there are ways to implement automation on a budget. These include starting on a smaller scale, or outsourcing some or all automated tasks. For those able to make the initial investment or find a way to implement automation, the long-term ROI is impressive.

Does automation threaten jobs?

13% of respondents to The Engineer’s poll thought that concerns over job losses were the main reason why the UK isn’t adopting automation at a higher rate.

Automation can actually create more skilled jobs, but the concern is that there aren’t enough skilled workers with the right knowledge to fill those roles. More government investment into STEM subjects and promotion of manufacturing-related careers can help to address this over the longer term. Still, there’s no denying that we currently have a shortage of the skills required.

Outsourcing automation gives companies access to the benefits of automation while taking advantage of the skilled workforce already employed by the outsourcer.

How prepared is the UK to step up automation?

According to The Economist, Britain ranks 8th in preparedness for a predicted wave of automation across the next 20-30 years. To move up that scale, we need to see more investment in automation research and development, plus a more significant focus on STEM education.

Is your business prepared for the automation revolution? At Innomech, we specialise in the design, development, and production of automation machines for the manufacturing industry. If you need support and guidance to optimise your automated manufacturing processes, please email us.