Automation is Imperative : A Call to Action for UK Manufacturers
In today's dynamic global manufacturing landscape, the integration of automation and robotics has become a cornerstone for maintaining competitiveness.
Now, more than ever, as technology advances at an unprecedented pace, the decision to automate is not just strategic but one of commercial survival. The absence of automation, coupled with the attitudes of UK manufacturers towards robotics and automation, poses a significant challenge to the UK's ability to compete with low-cost alternatives, especially from the Middle East, where the widespread adoption of robots has been widely publicised. Understanding why UK manufacturers are hesitant to adopt automation is crucial if they are to succeed in today's market.
The Rise of Automation in Manufacturing
Automation in manufacturing involves the use of technology to perform tasks with minimal human intervention. Robotics, artificial intelligence, and advanced machinery have become integral components in modern factories, contributing to increased efficiency, precision, and productivity. In the context of global manufacturing, countries that embrace automation are better positioned to meet the demands of rapidly changing markets.
The Middle East's Leap into Automation
One notable example of a region making significant strides in automation is the Middle East and Asia. Many Eastern countries have recognised the need to diversify and have turned to automation as a means of achieving economic transformation - As a whole, the continent of Asia led the way in robotics installations in 2022. The new World Robotics report recorded 553,052 industrial robot installations in factories around the world in 2022. By region, 73% of all newly deployed robots were installed in Asia. The continued adoption of robotics and automation is enabling Middle Eastern manufacturers to produce goods more efficiently and at a lower cost. By comparison, the UK is falling woefully behind, not even featuring in the top 15 largest markets and unable to compete.
The Competitive Edge of Tech-Savvy Manufacturers
The embrace of automation by tech savvy manufacturers is giving them a competitive edge over counterparts that lag in automation adoption. With streamlined production processes, reduced labour costs, and improved product quality, these manufacturers are better equipped to offer products at more competitive prices on the global market. As a result, they are gaining ground and challenging the dominance of traditional manufacturing.
Challenges Faced by UK Manufacturers
In contrast, some UK manufacturers are hesitant to fully embrace automation due to various factors, including concerns about job displacement, initial investment costs, and a lack of awareness about the transformative benefits of automation. However, failure to adapt to the changing landscape may result in diminished competitiveness and market share, ultimately failure. But there are multiple benefits to adopting robotics, not just for the commercial gains, but also to future proof operations to sustain operational longevity. Consider the appeal to the next generation, who whilst may not be overly enamoured at the prospect of becoming a welder, but may be drawn to the opportunity of becoming a robot programmer. Adopting automation also sends a very definitive message to your customers – you are looking to the future, you are innovative, you are investing.
Job Displacement Myth
One common misconception surrounding automation is the fear of job displacement. While it is true that certain routine tasks may become automated, the overall impact of automation on employment is nuanced. Automation often leads to the creation of new, higher-skilled jobs in areas such as robotics maintenance, programming, and system management. Moreover, by enhancing efficiency and competitiveness, automation helps secure the long-term viability of the manufacturing sector, safeguarding and creating jobs along the supply chain in the process: administrative staff, drivers, warehouse/inventory staff…
Investment in the Future
While the initial costs of implementing automation systems might be significant, it is crucial to view them as strategic investments in the future. The long-term benefits, including increased production capacity, improved product quality, and enhanced competitiveness, far outweigh the initial expenses. Governments and industry stakeholders should collaborate to create policies that incentivise and support the adoption of automation technologies by providing financial assistance and educational programs, such as those widely delivered across Ireland.
The Path Forward for UK Manufacturers
To remain competitive in the global manufacturing arena, UK manufacturers have to recognise the urgency of embracing automation, now. By investing in advanced technologies, optimising production processes, and upskilling the workforce, they can position themselves as able players in the international market, across multiple industries, from Food & Bev to welding,
Incredibly the Make UK Executive Summary revealed that 71% of firms agree that digital tech will drive productivity. This includes digital tools such as robotics, cloud, data analytics, and AI. Despite the awareness of the benefits of digital tech, investment in automation is still lacking.
The lessons from the East serve as a stark reminder that failing to adapt to the era of automation may lead to a gradual erosion of competitiveness. Automation is not merely a technological luxury; it is a strategic necessity for manufacturers aiming to thrive in the current global landscape. The adoption of automation by Middle Eastern countries is pushing them further and further ahead in the race for global competitiveness. UK manufacturers must act to overcome their reservations and invest in technology that will define the future of manufacturing. Embracing automation is not just about staying ahead—it is about securing a place at the global manufacturing table.