The International Federation of Robotics says that the UK now has almost 22,000 robots at work across industry, a new record high
The new World Robotics 2020 Industrial Robots report, compiled and presented by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) shows a record 21,700 industrial robots operating in factories across UK – an increase of 5% since the last survey. However, it states that sales of new robots are currently slow with 2,000 units shipped in 2019, which is16% less than 2018.
“The United Kingdom has a surprisingly low robot stock for a Western European country in the manufacturing industry,” says Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “Though the UK´s operational stock hits a new record, other European countries like France, Italy and Germany have between two times and even ten times the stock in operation. The automotive and the general industries need to invest in automation technology to keep up with international competition.”
The automotive industry remains by far the largest user of industrial robots in the United Kingdom according to the IFR. At the end of 2019, this industry accounted for 52% of the total operational stock of robots (11,000 units). With 13% of the operational stock, the plastics and chemical industry was the second largest user of industrial robots (2,710 units).
The IFR says that even without coronavirus, robot investment in the UK was already dampened because of the currently unclear Brexit situation. If no trade agreement is found until December 31st, 2020, the UK will be treated like a third-party country by the EU. This uncertainty, continues the IFR, inhibits the necessary modernisation of manufacturing production facilities. It says it will also determine the speed of economic recovery after the pandemic. Brexit might, however, drive robot installations in the UK because immigrants from Eastern Europe are starting to return to their home countries and government policy is to restrict immigration. These immigrants often worked in low-wage jobs, particularly in the food industry as well as in other manufacturing jobs, and might not be easily replaced by human labour in times of low unemployment. Again, short-run figures will be impacted by the COVID-19 situation, which will likely see rising unemployment. When the economy recovers and labour becomes a scarce resource again, the demand for robots might start to rise.