According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2017 UK productivity was 17.5% below pre-2008 levels. Mike Wilson, President of the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA), explains how robots could help to overcome this problem.
Investing in the latest automation technologies could help the UK to boost its productivity. UK manufacturers need to adopt a more flexible approach to automating their production processes to meet continually evolving consumer demands and remain competitive. Robots are generally considered a key element of flexible automation, they improve flexibility and are one of the few technologies that can be introduced to handle a variety of tasks.
Robots have been proven in a wide range of industrial applications worldwide, demonstrating their ability to unlock productivity. In particular, they offer the ability for manufacturers to make their processes more versatile and agile, providing the responsiveness and flexibility to meet changing customer demands.
Robotic automation offers UK manufacturers the opportunity to optimise productivity levels through better performance. Some examples of particular areas where robots can improve production include:
• Increased production output rates: Robots can run 24 hours a day with little supervision. Robots can now also be programmed to handle new products off-line, ensuring new products can be put into production much more quickly, with minimal impact on output.
• Increased product manufacturing flexibility: Robots provide the adaptability to handle changes in either the design or type of product being produced as well as changes in quantity and production schedules. This saves time performing reconfiguration work and investment in new dedicated machinery.
• Reduced material waste and increased yield: Robots significantly reduce wastage caused by errors, poor quality or breakages. Ingredients consumption is reduced, and tighter tolerances help increase yield by enabling greater output from the materials being fed into the process.
How do you know if a robot is right for your business?
The first step should always be to determine whether robots are suitable for the application in question. To answer this, it’s useful to consider operations as they currently stand and the changes needed to achieve the desired outcome. Some key factors to consider include:
• What are you currently making? Is the product likely to change in volume or design? What processes are involved? Could these processes be automated?
• Which areas in the current process could be improved? Aim to reduce overproduction and excessive movements of parts within a process.
• How will the investment be justified? The many benefits that robot automation provides need to be quantified in financial terms to gain the support of the financial director.
• Which operations would be easiest to automate first? It is almost always better to go for the ‘low hanging fruit’ first, picking off the easiest opportunities to automate and reducing the learning curve.
What’s the next step?
To make sure that all bases have been covered, it is always advisable to ask for help when designing and implementing a robotic solution. Robot manufacturers, system integration companies and other BARA members that specialise in application-specific robot solutions can advise on whether robots will meet a manufacturer’s needs. Together, these suppliers can provide across-the-board help, from specifying a particular solution to helping you build a financial case.
Mike Wilson is President of British Automation and Robot Association (BARA), Director at the Processing and Packaging Machinery Association (PPMA) and Business Development Manager (UK & Ireland) for ABB Robotics.