UK Manufacturers missing out on profit potential of Robots | Manufacturing Growth Programme

New research reveals why the majority of manufacturing SMEs have not adopted robot technology

Less than one third of the UK’s SME manufacturers currently use robots – or plan to do so – highlighting a sector where the vast majority of businesses are losing out on the chance to address key sector challenges such as talent shortages and introduce efficiency-boosting solutions.

The latest national Manufacturing Barometer report reveals that just 16% of manufacturing businesses have already adopted robots, with another 13% saying they plan to start using them.

But over 70% have no plans, or are unsure about, introducing robots.

Governments Industrial Strategy has appealed for ‘robots for a safer world challenge’ – with an investment of £93 million to develop new technologies and systems that can be deployed in extreme environments, for industries such as nuclear energy, offshore energy, deep mining and space – but are manufacturers prepared for this? Do SME manufacturers understand the advancements of robotics and how it can develop their productiveness?

Published by SWMAS and partner Economic Growth Solutions deliverer of the Manufacturing Growth Programme, the study also highlights a sector experiencing its toughest quarter in a decade. More SME manufacturers report a reduction in sales, profits and staff numbers than recorded in any period across the last 10 years.

Some 44% of businesses experienced a fall in profits in the last quarter – 10% more than in the previous three months.

Simon Howes, MD of SWMAS said: “With both Brexit and a potential change in government ongoing causes of uncertainty the Manufacturing Barometer shows manufacturers are finding their ability to recruit, invest and increase sales is ever more restricted. Finding technological solutions is increasingly important.

“And there is an opportunity to do more with robots: you can see this in the government’s Industrial Strategy, the continuing drive to increase productivity, and the need to find new ways to operate with fewer staff.

“However, when you see that, although the UK ranks as the 8th largest industrial nation, we are 22nd in the global league of robot adoption, we must ask why that is, and this is what we set out to explore in our study of the UK’s SME manufacturing sector.

“Three important findings came out of our research. The first is that so few SME manufacturers in the UK are benefiting from using robots in their businesses. Secondly, the bulk of SME manufacturers are not using robots because they believe there is no robotic solution available to them; the majority of these manufacture low volume bespoke products. Thirdly, more than one third of SME manufacturers who do not yet use robots are unsure if their competitors do.”

Dean Barnes, Regional Director of Economic Growth Solutions, said: “This quarter, we are left in no doubt that the SME manufacturing sector is experiencing one of the toughest periods recorded in 10 years of the Manufacturing Barometer.

“More SME manufacturers have experienced a reduction in sales, profits and recruitment than ever seen before.

“That said, the resilient attitude of the UK’s SME manufacturing sector is palpable. Although approximately a fifth of manufacturers note ‘survival’ or ‘getting through Brexit’ as an aspiration, over a quarter talk about growth and over a fifth reference investment, whether in machinery and premises or people, automation, new products, and establishing new markets.

“Manufacturers have a real interest in identifying opportunity for their businesses. We have to find a way to connect manufacturers to the opportunity robot technology could provide.”

Simon Howes said: “We call on manufacturers to look at how their competitors are using robots, and for robot suppliers to look at solutions. If there is not a robotic solution for the large group of low volume producers, the driver for robot adoption could fail.

“It also seems to be true, as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy highlights, that a lack of awareness around robots is harming the productivity of businesses, particularly for SMEs.

“For the potential of robots to be realised, the UK’s SME manufacturers need tailored advice and support to help them plan and integrate robots into their businesses.”

To read the full report – click here.