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As robot density rises, is the UK lagging behind?

With South Korea, Singapore, Germany and Japan leading the way, according to the 2017 World Robot Statistics, issued by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the UK doesn’t even make the top 20 when it comes to robot density.

While automation of production is accelerating around the world with 74 robot units per 10,000 employees now being the average of global robot density in manufacturing, the UK disappoints with just a lowly 71.

According to Junji Tsuda, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “Between 2010 and 2016, the average annual growth rate of robot density in Asia was 9 percent, in the Americas 7 percent and in Europe 5 percent.”

Worldwide, the Republic of Korea has a robot density that exceeds the global average by a good eight-fold (631 units). In Europe Germany - ranking 3rd worldwide with 309 units – leads the way.

So why the apparent ‘poor’ performance of UK industry when compared to its peers and do those figures accurately portray the UK’s take up of robots?

There’s no denying that investment in automation can reap incredible rewards, as long as manufacturers are investing in the right kinds of technology and if done properly it would certainly help to improve the UK’s poor record on productivity.

There are plenty of suggested plans for capacity expansion and modernisation but is the UK once again missing the chance of taking a global lead in these new technologies? Are our business leaders lacking the vision to transform their organisations and industries?

Well, not necessarily.

Those headline figures tend to favour mass producers and don’t provide an accurate picture of what the UK actually does, in terms of manufacturing, which is often high tech, small volume with faster turn-around times.

Deploying robots wouldn’t actually be that beneficial to those types of manufacturer. There will be setup costs for programming robots to be taken into account, and a certain batch size will be necessary before they become viable.

There are certainly companies in the UK that are pioneering the use of robotics, Ocado Technology and Dyson, to name just two, but the largest investors tend to be those involved in mass production.

Perhaps the UK isn’t the laggard those figures suggest.

Author
Neil Tyler

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