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What should manufacturers look for in an automation partner?

17 January 2024

When considering investing in automation and robotic technologies, manufacturers should look for a business partner to help support them through the investment and integration process, says Paul Rivers

THE MANUFACTURING sector is navigating a convergence of trends that, in many countries, has accelerated the adoption of critical technologies like robotics. However, uptake has remained much slower in the UK, leading to concerns over the long-term implications. In this context, automation partners are now stepping up their efforts to help manufacturers ease the adoption of robotics technology and harness its benefits.

Vital manufacturing contribution

Few manufacturers emerged unscathed from the host of challenges thrown at them in recent years, from supply chain disruptions to the shortage of labour, and huge price spikes of energy and raw materials. Trends such as the shift to near-sourcing should be driving a surge in demand for UK manufacturers. However, as it stands, handling existing orders can be difficult enough.

Automation and robotics technologies are the only way to deliver the efficiency, quality, and reliability essential to meeting new customer demand at a reasonable cost and without relying on new (scarce) staff members. Yet, despite recognition from many countries around the world, new robot installations in the UK remain a long way behind the world’s leading adopters.

According to the World Robotics 2023 Report, industrial robot installations in Europe’s frontrunner Germany were at 25,636 units in 2022. This is compared to just 2,534 units in the UK - less than a tenth of Germany´s installations.

Such low rates of adoption could have worrying implications for the long-term success of UK manufacturing - which has prompted the automation industry to acknowledge that more needs to be done to help ease the deployment of robotics for UK manufacturers. 

Confidence in automation

Mobile robots can transform productivity. They can create a far more efficient and motivated workforce and contribute to a safer working environment. Plus, they can deliver the cost savings required to help offset the impact of inflation. Nevertheless, many manufacturers in the UK have held back from embracing automation due to concerns of operational disruption and limited availability of investment funds. 

Now, when exploring automation and robotic technologies, manufacturers can look for a business partner to help them through the investment and integration process in the following ways.
1.    Free AMR trial: Leading automation companies are increasingly taking a proactive approach to allowing businesses to see robots in action. The ability to trial technologies such as Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) provides manufacturers with an effective way to understand the business case, including how to use the technologies and where to achieve the most cost savings and efficiencies.
2.    Simplified investment: The hesitancy surrounding automation investment throughout the manufacturing sector is understandable, given the widespread disruption of the past few years. The onus is on the automation industry to make investment more straightforward and accessible, so manufacturers should look for automation partners that offer a variety of business models. Robotics as a Service, for example, allows companies to leverage operational expenses (Opex) to access automation by renting Autonomous Vehicles (AVs). Flexible contracts are also an option to help manufacturers navigate fluctuating demand, while shorter-term contracts give companies the confidence to try robots without undue business risk.
3.    Starting small: A common misconception is that AVs must be purchased in a fleet. However, the truth is quite different, and manufacturers should steer clear of an automation partner that tells them otherwise. Just one or two robots can add efficiency for a manufacturing SME. And by opting for a flexible contract arrangement, companies are free to add or remove robots as needed – even keeping them on-site to meet peaks in demand and only paying when the AV is operational.

Given the unabating impact of challenges facing the UK economy right now, it is vital that manufacturers continue to seek opportunities for growth. The responsibility lies with the automation provider to demonstrate to manufacturers that automation and robotics can deliver real benefits, while making investment simpler and low risk.

Paul Rivers is MD at Guidance Automation

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