When it comes to investment in robotics, UK manufacturers are continuing to lag well behind competitors in other developed countries.
Sales of robots to the manufacturing sector, which includes many plastics, rubber, and packaging product makers, fell 15% year-on-year in 2018, data from the British Automation & Robot Association (BARA) shows.
The growing gap with overseas manufacturers is at its widest outside of the automotive sector, according to BARA chairman Mike Wilson.
UK robot density in sectors, such as food & drink and consumer products, is a mere 42 per 10,000 employees, Wilson told a 1 Feb press conference in London.
This is just 20-50% of the equivalent levels seen in the non-automotive sectors of other major EU economies, the association chairman pointed out.
On a brighter note, Wilson said investment levels should improve over the coming years, helped in part by the UK’s Made Smarter industrial-strategy initiative.
Other helpful factors include increasing productivity pressures, reduced availability of low-cost labour – partly due to Brexit – and workplace-safety requirements.
However, safety issues can actually work against the introduction of robotics due to variation in standards of installation in the UK.
"Currently, anyone can claim to provide systems’ integrator solutions, but that doesn’t mean that they are trained or competent to integrate a robot into a system,” explained Wilson.
The issue has prompted BARA to launch the UK’s first robot integrators’ certification scheme, in association with the US Robot Industries Association.
The scheme, said Wilson, will add another layer of credibility for BARA members who are qualified to fully-integrate one or more robots into a production line.
“It will also offer the end-user peace of mind that the company and integrator they have appointed to undertake the work have both been independently verified,” he concluded.