The government is to fund a two-year programme aimed at encouraging UK manufacturing firms to invest in robotics and automated systems.
The £600,000 programme will include a series of regional educational events organised by trade bodies, including the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA).
Mike Wilson, president of BARA, said: “There are 186,000 UK manufacturing companies and the majority of them have no experience and no automation in use.
“A lot of businesses don’t have the knowledge and don’t have time to investigate how they can improve their own business by using automation.”
Wilson said the aim of the programme is to identify potential opportunities for automation. “It’s more a question of encouraging manufacturing to apply the same technologies that are being applied elsewhere.
“The goal is to increase the competitiveness of our manufacturing industry. It’s about improving quality, providing consistency, reducing waste, increasing yield and making operations more efficient.”
The programme follows the results of a study last year commissioned by the Engineering and Machinery Alliance that identified the main barriers to automation within small and medium-sized businesses. Robot developer Kuka, which was one of the main sponsors of the study, compared UK companies with firms in Germany, Spain and Sweden.
The study revealed that UK producers have fallen a long way behind European competitors in terms of robot use. The main barriers to take-up were lack of knowledge and skills and risk-averse attitudes.
Alan Shilton, managing director of Kuka, said that he hoped the programme would result in the adoption of robust, workable automation solutions for companies that may have shielded themselves away from the introduction of robotics into the workplace.
If the events are a success, Wilson said BARA would be asking the government for more support to promote robotics and automation. “This is the first step,” he said. “We’re hopeful that it is successful and has an impact and if it does then we are hoping that the government will continue.”