Invest in automation
“One of the biggest challenges that manufacturing faces is to generate awareness around the benefits that robots and automation can bring. With just 85 robots per 10,000 workers, the UK is 22nd in the world, on a par with the global average and well behind many of its counterparts, particularly in Europe where Germany leads the way with 322.
“Growth has been hampered by a lack of decisive action from the government, which can largely be ascribed to a range of misconceptions associated with automation, particularly around cost, return on investment, and impact on the workforce.
“To date, no one in a position of power has really stood up and championed industrial automation.
“This year represents an opportunity for UK manufacturers to work closely with government officials to help provide knowledge that will aid in the transition to new technologies, and ultimately a more prosperous future.”
Tom Bouchier is managing director at FANUC UK
“The most recent IHS Markit Manufacturing PMI figures made for a concerning read. Not only did the overall Purchasing Managers’ Index reading continue its ongoing slide into contraction, factory outputs fell even further to 45.6 – a seven-year low.
“Largely due to weak demand and fluctuating business confidence, as reflected in the falling PMI, jobs in the sector have also been cut for the ninth successive month. This points to a need for government to introduce initiatives that support investments in solutions to simplify tool procurement and increase productivity per head throughout the sector if we aspire to remain competitive in the world market.
“Solutions such as automation and smarter workspace planning – particularly when it comes to efficient use of tools and machine tools – could have a transformative, resource-friendly impact on manufacturing output, future-proofing this critical industry.”
Tim Paddison is managing director of Hoffmann Group UK
Smooth the path for international trade after Brexit
“Manufacturing forms a strategically important part of the UK economy, accounting for 20% of total output. And it tends to be concentrated in regions of the country where the government is keen to boost growth, such as the North of England.
“The single most important thing the government could do to support UK production is to ensure a smooth and friction-free set of trading arrangements with our EU partners post-Brexit who together take 50% of all UK global goods exports.
“Added to this is the need to boost skills training for our employment base – through investment in further education.”
Alexander Jan is Arup chief economist
Vision for education
“The government can support UK manufacturing by driving collaboration between universities and industry that pushes the forefront of technological developments in automation and robotics, utilising digital technologies such as immersive technologies, data analytics, connected environments and the Internet of Things.
“The vision at Birmingham City University is for our engineering students to play a key role in such projects during their studies. The industrial partners benefit from improved efficiency, cost reduction or new products.
“The universities develop cutting-edge research, education and training. The students have the opportunity to develop as high-calibre, ready-for-industry graduates that possess an appropriate combination of knowledge, skills and real-world experience.”
Professor Hanifa Shah is pro-vice-chancellor and executive dean at Birmingham City University
Give a helping hand to small businesses
“A positive first step would be to quickly implement the recommendations from the Automation and the Future of Work report released by MPs on the business, energy and industrial strategy committee. It warns that the UK is lagging behind other advanced economies in the shift to industrial automation and that the real danger to UK manufacturing jobs is not too many robots but too few.
“Government can play a key role in encouraging investment in automation especially by small manufacturers.”
Mark Grey is UK sales manager at Universal Robots
“The government is supporting UK automotive and aerospace supply-chain manufacturers, having announced a £26m support programme called NMCL (National Manufacturing Competitiveness Levels).
“NMCL starts with an in-depth, business-wide competitiveness assessment based on company capabilities. It covers company strategy, management systems, product lifecycle, supply chain and operations. This, along with input from interviews with key customers, identifies where investments can be strategically applied to boost performance across quality, cost, delivery, flexibility, products/technology and customer experience.
“Projects are tailor-made for each manufacturer, with companies able to undertake six-month focused improvement projects through to multi-year company transformations. We hope to see many companies subscribing to the initiative.”
Mike Dickinson is general manager, SMMT Industry Forum
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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.