The UK is deciding whether to stay in the European Union or not, which may or may not affect the manufacturing sector
The UK is currently in the midst of a national debate over whether or not to leave the European Union, with opinion polls suggesting that the so-called “Brexit” campaign has the public’s favour, although only marginally.
Those who are arguing against an exit from the EU say that the country’s economy will suffer if the majority of people vote to leave, and they produce figures to support their argument. But then, so does the other side.
The EU referendum will be held on June 23.
From an objective point of view, it’s probably difficult to say what will happen. No one knows what the future holds for sure. And besides, statistics can be made to support pretty much any point of view, even if they are diametrically opposed to one another.
For example, just yesterday, BusinessReviewEurope.eu reported that Britain’s manufacturing sector is “officially at its lowest point in three years”. While only last week, Telegraph.co.uk reported that UK manufacturing has “unexpectedly returned to growth”.
True, they were each looking at a different time-frame, but the fact remains that, as they say, “past performance is no guarantee of future results”, and leaving the EU would propel the UK into uncharted waters in an increasingly complex modern world.
Onwards and upwards with advanced manufacturing
Statistical evidence is about as reliable as anecdotal evidence as a guide to the future. However, both are interesting, and together they can provide a sketch of the way things are.
And in the UK, there’s probably as many stories about progress as there are about struggles in the manufacturing sector.
Barclays Bank’s head of manufacturing Mike Rigby claims that manufacturing companies are keen to invest in robotics and automation technologies to take advantage of the onshoring trend. His department has produced a detailed survey – with statistics – of the UK manufacturing industry and how it could profit from more investment in robotics and automation.
“I’ve spent virtually my entire working life talking to clients,” Rigby tells Robotics and Automation News. “And the typical responses I hear now is not whether to invest in robotics and automation, it’s how much to invest.”
Meanwhile, Renishaw, which claims to be “one of the world’s leading engineering and scientific technology companies”, has opened an advanced manufacturing facility in the Midlands region of the UK.
James Selka, CEO of the Manufacturing Technologies Association says: “It’s great to see a British company pushing the boundaries of such an innovative technology that has the potential to change manufacturing as we know it.”
Advanced manufacturing, additive manufacturing, 3D printing, magic mushrooms – call it what you will, but the sector has been growing fast for some years and, according to engineeers’ institute IEEE, 35 per cent of engineering jobs now require some skills in these technologies.
Engineering the future
An example of a company which has a positive attitude to the UK manufacturing sector, regardless of what happens in the EU referendum, is RA Rodriguez.
The company has been supplying components to the top UK manufacturers for some 40 years, and recently established a dedicated automation company – RARUK Automation.
The parent company was encourage to branch out because it has been seeing continued strong growth in sales of its robotics and automation systems, reporting a 300 per cent increase over the past year or so.
Peter Williamson, managing director, spoke exclusively to Robotics and Automation News, and provided some insight into RA Rodriguez and why it set up RARUK Automation.
“We are selling complete 6-axis collaborative robots and control from Universal Robots,” says WIlliamson.
“All of our sales are in the UK to a wide variety of customers, ranging from multinational companies with broad automation experience, to SMEs taking their first steps into automation.”
Williamson indicates that the success of Universal Robots’ collaborative robot – believed to be the first of its kind in the industry – is one of the main reasons behind RA Rodriguez’s decision to diversify.
“RARUK Automation launched on 1 April 2016 and has been set up purely to provide automation solutions.
“We will be using this arm of the business to sell Universal Robots range of collaborative 6-axis robots, Robotiq grippers that compliment the Universal Robots range but can also be used on traditional industrial robots, IEF Werner programmable linear axis and palletising systems, and MAFU feeding and disentangling systems.”
Williamson explains that RARUK Automation has separated from RA Rodriguez, which is a supplier of transmission components, to “allow for dedicated focus on automation”.
He says: “The robotics and automation sector is, in our opinion, likely to grow considerably in the near future as more and more manufacturers look to maintain or bring production back to the UK.
“RARUK Automation is well placed to provide solutions to both large scale manufacturers with previous automation experience through to SMEs looking at how they can introduce automation into their production.”
Williamson says he has observed important trend in industrial robotics and automation – like most other technologies, robotics and automation technologies are getting cheaper while at the same time becoming more powerful.
Williamson says: “The robotics industry itself is changing as there is a drive towards more affordable and simpler automation technology.
“This has been spearheaded by Universal Robots, and in the UK by RARUK Automation as their preferred partner, by creating and supplying a range of collaborative robots.”
Williamson says that when Universal Robots first emerged around seven years ago, their five main drivers were:
» fast setup;
» easy programming;
» flexible deployment;
» collaborative and safe; and
» fast payback.
“This has led them to become the market leader worldwide for collaborative robots, with a number of large traditional industrial robot manufacturers now looking to emulate Universal Robots success by introducing their own range of collaborative robots.”