‘Collaboration key to drive UK uptake in robotics and automation and level up productivity’ – MTC report finds
Collaboration between manufacturers, government and the supply chain is critical to accelerating the UK’s adoption of robotics and automation to help address the dramatic downturn in productivity, exacerbated by Covid-19 and Brexit. This is at the heart of a series of recommendations made in a new report: “Robotics and Automation: A New Perspective” led by the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC).
UK manufacturing faces ongoing challenges in its ability to increase the use of robotic technologies and automated processes, which are key to improving productivity, as well as deliver solutions that can help reach net zero. These include supply chain weaknesses, labour shortages, lack of awareness and financial incentives, as well as a need for reskilling – all which have been worsened by the impact of Brexit and Covid-19. The report cites that the UK is 24th in the world for robot density in manufacturing businesses and lags behind in productivity as a result. But the technology to turn the situation around already exists and the opportunity is significant - The 'Made Smarter Review' identified that the application of automation and robotics in UK industry could contribute £183.6 billion over the next decade. So now, the UK’s priority must be to improve the rate of adoption.
The report delves into low adoption of automation and suggests recommendations for improving the uptake of these advanced technologies and processes. Led by the Manufacturing Technology Centre, part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, and with the input of the Industrial Policy Research Centre at Loughborough University, the overwhelming conclusion from the experts who contributed, is that manufacturers, research organisations, equipment suppliers and the Government need to share knowledge and resources to enable the sector to profit from robotics and automation. This collaboration should be focused on four key areas: awareness, finance and, skills and education.
Awareness: To kickstart the process, public attitudes surrounding automation and robotics need to change including addressing the perception that these technologies pose a threat to people’s livelihoods and jobs. Evidence has shown automation and robotics will increase employment and will offer the workforce the opportunity to gain new skills. However, shifting perceptions can only be achieved through the combined efforts of sectoral bodies, trade unions and the media to ensure the benefits of automation and robotics are accurately shared to a large audience.
Finance: The financial community has a vital role in this journey. Learning resources should be freely available to ensure investors understand the benefits of robotics and automation and are not discouraged to invest by any perceived risk. On the other hand, businesses need to know how to build a strong business case to ensure they can access the required funding to adopt automation in their own operations. The partnership with financial bodies and investors should provide businesses, especially SMEs, the tools to adopt robotics and automation.
Skills and education:
To bring in new talent with the appropriate skills required by automation, that can to level-up the workforce, investment in the national education system from schools to colleges and universities must be a priority to encourage higher levels of interest in engineering and technology. There must also be partnerships between academia and industry, developing unified standards of apprenticeships and appropriate training opportunities for reskilling employees whose job roles change due to the introduction of new automation and robotics technology. To upskill the existing workforce, the provision of better training and in particular, short courses which don't take key people out of the business for long periods of time, is key.
This report is only the start of the journey. Industry has the solution to its productivity challenge, but without the rapid uptake of automation and robotics, the UK will struggle to keep up with global manufacturing powerhouses. Our challenge is to embed these solutions within industry with the support of the Government, industry experts, equipment suppliers and the media. With automation and robotics, we have the opportunity to solve the challenges faced not just by UK manufacturing but society as a whole. The MTC’s vision is to impact society the right way – with a collaborative approach. Automation can help achieve that – by contributing to the levelling up of skills, productivity and post-pandemic recovery of the UK.
Download the Automation is the key to Improving UK Productivity report here.