SME manufacturers are adopting robotics and automation systems Smarter, creating hundreds of new and upskilled jobs due to the support of Made Smarter. The North West Adoption Programme, which is a collaboration between UK government and industry designed to support the increased use of digital technologies, has supported over 40 businesses with 45 technology projects focused on robotics and automation machinery.

The £2 million investment, which combines £883 thousand in grant funding and leverages £1.1 million of private finance, is forecast to create 183 new jobs and upskill a further 234 existing workers.

“These figures are further evidence that robots, cobots, and process control automation technologies are creating more jobs than they displace, as well as a host of other benefits,” Alain Dilworth, North West adoption programme manager at Made Smarter, said. “Manufacturers who have adopted these digital technologies are experiencing increased productivity and efficiency, more consistent and improved part production and quality, lower operating costs, reduced lead times, the ability to be more competitive, and improved worker safety.

“The Made Smarter Programme has proven the value that digital technology can bring to the manufacturing sector. By providing businesses with specialist, impartial technology advice, grant funding for projects, digital transformation workshops, a leadership programme, digital technology internships, and skills development, Made Smarter is helping them select the right approach and the appropriate level of investment and tools for their business.”

Agricultural machine manufacturer Storth, used robotics to navigate staff shortages during the pandemic and overcome the problem of skilled welders being tied up with repetitive tasks. Its robotic welding system produces parts at twice the rate its human counterparts and welding staff have been moved to higher value, more rewarding and more technically challenging roles.

“Our investment in the robot welder enabled us to manufacture quicker and cost effectively, and solved the problem of manpower not just in terms of sourcing quality welders to satisfy demand but to maintain production during the pandemic when welders were self-isolating,” Julian Lopez, export manager at Storth, said. “Meanwhile the technology has made us more competitive to be able to react quickly to orders and changed the way we can approach export markets. We have also been able to create new apprentice roles to operate the robotics and cultivate the skills we will need in the future.”

While the adoption of robotics in the UK is on the rise, it is well behind global competition. According to the International Federation of Robotics, the number of robots per 10,000 workers is 71, below the global average of 74, and significantly lower than Germany (309) and South Korea (631).

“It is fantastic to see Made Smarter supporting SME manufacturers in the adoption of advanced technologies like robotics to address the UK’s shortfall in productivity,” Mark Stepney, director of the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA), said. “The ROI on the use of industrial robots is startlingly clear. Along with faster production comes a long sought-after benefit, the ability to free human workers from the dangers and drudgery of manual work. Human workers can be elevated to roles where their individual skills and cognitive abilities can be better utilised.”

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