Following last year's unveiling by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) of the latest statistics on the use of robots, Martin Walder, the Managing Director for ABB's UK robotics business, believes UK manufacturers that have yet to adopt robots could be missing out on a vital opportunity to secure a more competitive future.
With businesses around the world reporting greatly enhanced efficiency and profitability as a result of adopting robots, it perhaps seems odd that the UK should be lagging in its adoption of the technology, with sales of robots in 2006 down by 10.5 per cent compared to the year before. Why is it that UK companies are apparently so reluctant to invest in robotic technology compared to overseas competitors, especially given that financial certainty and competitiveness are currently so high on the agenda?
The UK manufacturing sector is undoubtedly facing tough times. Comparatively high labour costs, problems with finding and retaining skilled workers, and spiralling energy costs have made it difficult for UK companies to keep pace with foreign competition, resulting in many either outsourcing their operations overseas or shutting up shop completely.
Yet these problems are the same areas where the one million robots currently in operation worldwide have been proven time and again to deliver substantial benefits.
Achieving consistent performance with minimal overheads, robots can help companies better predict factors such as cost of production, turnaround times and output levels, with none of the variables associated with manual workers such as sickness, inflationary wage increases or training requirements. Furthermore, many companies that have outsourced overseas are finding that any immediate economic benefits are frequently more than offset by the longer supply line and difficulties inherent in working away from home, such that robots are increasingly presenting a better alternative for reducing the cost of manufacturing at home.
Developments in robotic technology, another traditional area of concern, have also helped to significantly reduce its complexity, to the point where the need for specialised training just to operate a robot has been minimised. Furthermore, any problems that do arise can now be readily tackled thanks to the availability of comprehensive manufacturer service and support packages, including ABB's own remote monitoring service to quickly identify and solve any problems with a robot.
These, and other developments, mean that companies do not have to be large-scale manufacturers, such as automotive companies, to enjoy the benefits that robots can bring. The benefits of the technology and its ease of use now mean it is also ripe for adoption by the UK's small and medium size enterprises (SMEs).
That robots can significantly improve SME performance, productivity and profitability is supported by evidence in applications worldwide, including the UK. As manufacturers become more educated about the benefits robots can bring, ABB hopes to see the UK manufacturing sector taking the crucial first step and making the commitment for better business.
To help manufacturers see how their business could benefit by adopting robots, ABB Robotics has launched its '10 good reasons to invest in robotics' brochure, providing examples of how the technology is benefiting companies worldwide, including SMEs. For your copy, please email email@example.com quoting the reference "˜10 good reasons'.