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Just 16% of UK’s SME manufacturers are using robots

06 January, 2020

Just 16% of the UK’s SME (small and medium enterprise) manufacturers are using robots, with another 13% saying they are planning to start using them, according to the latest national Manufacturing Barometer report. But more than 70% have no plans to introduce robots or are unsure about whether to do so.

Of those that are using robots, 35% are using them to load and unload machines, 15% are using them for assembly operations, and 12% for cutting and forming. The biggest benefits of robots (cited by 20% of the robot users in the survey) are improved quality and repeatability, and lower operating costs. Some 18% reported that robots had speeded up their operations, and 16% said that they had improved safety.

The survey, published by SWMAS and Economic Growth Solutions, also reveals that the sector is experiencing its toughest quarter in a decade. More SME manufacturers are reporting a reduction in sales, profits and staff numbers than in any period in the past ten years.

Some 44% of the businesses surveyed experienced a fall in profits in the past quarter – 10% more than in the previous three months.

“The Manufacturing Barometer shows manufacturers are finding their ability to recruit, invest and increase sales is ever more restricted,” SWMAS managing director, Simon Howes, reports. “So, finding technological solutions is increasingly important.

“There is an opportunity to do more with robots,” he adds. “Although the UK ranks as the eighth-largest industrial nation, we are 22nd in the global league of robot adoption – we must ask why that is, and this is what we set out to explore in our study.

Where UK SME manufacturers are using robots
Source: SWMAS

“Three important things came out of our research. The first is the simple truth that so few SME manufacturers in the UK are using robots. Secondly, a belief that low-volume, variable or difficult-to-handle products make robots unviable. Thirdly, more than one third of SME manufacturers who do not use robots are unsure whether their competitors do, raising questions around awareness of what is actually possible for them.

“We call on manufacturers to look again at robots and at how their competitors are using them,” says Howes. “We also ask robot suppliers to look specifically at SME manufacturers’ concerns and provide better awareness of the latest solutions.

“It also seems to be true – as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy highlights – that a lack of awareness around robots is harming the productivity of businesses, particularly for SMEs.

“For the potential of robots to be realised,” Howes suggests, “the UK’s SME manufacturers need much better awareness, tailored advice and flexible support to help them plan and integrate robots into their businesses – this is a huge challenge, but one we can overcome.”




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