Can a new wave of more accessible industrial robots help address Britain’s productivity slump?
While the prospect of higher production rates, lower wage bills, and 24-hour factories may sound attractive for manufacturers, a technical skills gap could hold back large scale implementation.
Following the launch of the EAL Level 3 Certificate in Robotics and Automation training course, MakeUK evaluates the future of manufacturing and looks at how more firms can adopt the technology.
Britain labours on with slow productivity growth
The latest figures show that UK productivity grew 0.5 percent in 2018, meaning that output per worker has grown by an average of just 0.2 percent per year since the 2008 financial crisis.
Several studies have shown that investing in industrial robots is an effective way of increasing worker productivity, but evidence suggests that British manufacturers lag behind international competitors when it comes to embracing industrial robots.
On a measure of robot density in industry, the International Federation of Robots ranks Britain 22nd behind Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic among others. In fact, Britain is the only G7 country with an industrial robot density below the global average of 74 industrial robots per 10,000 workers.
Cheaper, more advanced, more versatile
As robotics technology improves, machines are becoming more accessible, even for smaller firms.
Some lightweight robots now represent a six-month return on investment. Meanwhile other robots are starting to creep below the industry standard return on investment period of two years. At the opposite end of the spectrum, advanced manufacturing robots are becoming more adept.
The robotic arms that are most closely associated with automotive manufacturing have improved significantly over the last few decades, with the latest models fitted with dexterous appendages modelled on human hands and wrists.
How manufacturing robots interact with humans is changing too. Previously, workers and robots have been physically separated on the shop floor to keep workers safe, but now a new generation of collaborative robots or ‘cobots’ use sensors to maintain workplace safety while improving productivity and flexibility in factories.
The potential for collaborative robots is huge. In the future, cobots will be deployed and re-deployed quickly in response to changing production demand. They will also understand voice commands and work side-by-side with humans on tasks that require input from man and machine.
Bridging the robotic skills gap
While the advantages are clear, implementing manufacturing robots isn’t without its issues. One key challenge is the lack of skilled programmers, engineers, and maintenance staff needed to facilitate a manufacturer’s robot rollout.
To help bridge this skills gap, MakeUK launched its EAL Level 3 Certificate in Robotics and Automation earlier this year.
Delivered using a state of the art robotics cell at MakeUK’s Technology Hub in Aston, the training is comprised of a series of modules that can be taken as a full course or broken down into individual components.
It covers a broad range of technical skills including programming, electrical and mechanical maintenance, and fault finding and system diagnosis.
The course is open to everyone but is designed primarily for technicians and engineers wanting to expand their experience and become multi-skilled robot maintenance engineers.
MakeUK’s Technology Hub offers a broad range of training courses for manufacturers, including bespoke automation training for companies that want to implement automation on a large scale.