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Automation is biggest challenge for 81% of UK industrial users

25 April, 2024

More than four in five industrial technology users in the UK (81%) regard adopting automation successfully as their biggest challenge, according to a new survey published by Automate UK – the automation and packaging trade organisation formerly known as PPMA. Particular factors that they cite include: the challenge of automating bespoke products; the level of skilled labour needed to support automation; and the difficulty of keeping abreast of developments such as AI and cobots.

Automate UK says that there is “a real appetite for greater adoption of automation in the UK,” it but that “there are challenges to overcome”.

Many manufacturers – SMEs, in particular – believe that the high costs of automation put it out of reach for them. There is also “a cultural issue” concerning the speed at which automation investments should pay for themselves, according to Automate UK, which suggests that the potential for offsetting costs through improved efficiencies is not being taken into account.

The survey – based on feedback from 165 of the organisation’s members, industry experts and users of automation technology – reveals that the cost of investment is the biggest barrier to adopting more automation for 73% of the respondents, while 32.6% cite unrealistic expectations, followed by a lack of knowledge of what’s available (30.5%). Other restraining factors include difficulties in finding the right suppliers (23%), fear of failure (20.9%) and an inability to source finance (15.8%).

According to the report, 2023 saw a worsening of various challenges that emerged during the Covid pandemic. Supply chain issues have been having the biggest impact for 73% of end-users, with the flow of vital components being disrupted and costs driven up. Contributing factors have included the rise of geopolitical tensions, cyber-security breaches, the costs of raw materials, and a lack of skilled and unskilled labour following Brexit.

Automate UK’s members have found it difficult to source the automation components needed to build special-purpose machines. This is delaying the completion of projects and stopping suppliers from being paid.

Automate UK CEO Peter Williamson: breaking down perceived barriers for mutual benefit

Automate UK reports that there has been a slight decline in pay increases (excluding bonuses), but recorded a 7.7% increase – the biggest annual growth since records began in 2001.

The survey’s finding have been published in Automate UK's 2024 Industry Report. This year is widely expected to be a positive year for the automation sector, with 67% of respondents saying that they feel optimistic or very optimistic about the coming months. Automate UK expects this confidence to translate into increased capital expenditure, the wider adoption of AI technologies, and transformative growth.

“As well as demonstrating the desire of end-user companies for the greater adoption of automation, this report also sets out some of the perceived challenges and barriers to success,” says Automate UK CEO, Peter Williamson. “By identifying these challenges, we are helping our members to work more collaboratively with their customers to break down these perceived barriers for mutual benefit.”

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