Recent data from the Office for National Statistics indicates that in the first quarter of 2023, output per hour worked in the UK was only 0.6% higher than its pre-pandemic average in 2019. This trend continues the slow upward trajectory witnessed since the financial crisis and remains significantly below the growth rates experienced from the early 1970s until 2008.
The UK’s productivity growth has been sluggish since the financial crisis, failing to keep pace with the historical trends observed prior to 2008. This stagnation poses a risk to the country’s economic health and competitiveness, as productivity is a crucial driver of economic growth and living standards. For instance, low productivity in the manufacturing sector can lead to decreased competitiveness, higher production costs, reduced exports, slower economic growth, and potential job losses.
However, the integration of automation technologies offers a solution to these challenges. Automation streamlines production processes and enhances efficiency. A report by the Harvard Business Review shows that over 90% of workers surveyed acknowledge that automation has boosted their productivity.
The UK, currently in a state of productivity stagnation, needs to acknowledge the benefits of automation more widely.
Falling behind in automation
The IFR World Robotics Industrial Robots 2022 report reveals a decline in new robot installations in the UK, placing the country at 24th globally for manufacturing robot density. This is well below the global average and far behind leading nations like the Republic of Korea and Germany. Other European countries, such as Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, and Hungary, have also surpassed the UK in robotics adoption.
Despite these challenges, increasing automation adoption can significantly improve productivity, as demonstrated by countries like the US, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden. These nations have higher productivity rates in sectors with similar manufacturing contributions to their GDP, largely due to advanced automation.
For example, a comparison between UK and German workers shows that greater automation in German manufacturing contributes to higher output per hour worked in Germany.
Overcoming misconceptions about IoT adoption
A significant barrier to embracing IoT in manufacturing is the perceived complexity and cost, along with concerns about potential disruptions. Avnet Silica reports that 27% of companies find the technological demands of IoT implementation prohibitive. Often, this is due to a lack of understanding or awareness of the available IoT options, leading to poor technology choices and missed opportunities for productivity and cost improvements. Effective guidance is essential for companies to make informed decisions and select solutions tailored to their specific needs.
The role of industrial automation
Industrial automation technologies, including programmable logic controllers (PLCs), human-machine interfaces (HMIs), and motion control systems, are pivotal in achieving efficiency gains. PLCs provide precise, automated control over machinery; HMIs offer user-friendly interfaces for monitoring processes; and motion control systems ensure precise movements, enhancing production quality. These technologies collectively streamline operations, reduce downtime, and optimise resource utilisation.
Beckhoff’s TwinCAT automation software, for instance, exemplifies an effective digital solution. It integrates seamlessly with various hardware platforms, facilitating efficient control and synchronisation of machines and processes. TwinCAT can manage diverse facilities with robotic arms, conveyor belts, and CNC machines, gathering real-time data from sensors and devices to inform decisions and adjustments.
Thus, software like TwinCAT acts as a unifying force in industrial automation, offering a powerful tool for the manufacturing sector. It enables manufacturers to overcome the productivity stagnation that has afflicted the UK since the 2008 financial crisis, providing a solution to the productivity puzzle.
An engineering graduate from King’s College London, Stephen Hayes created an automation business before selling to Beckhoff UK, where he now works as a Managing Director.